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Should Jared Cook’s late touchdown have been upheld?

The Oakland Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs game on Thursday exceeded expectations in a classic divisional matchup.

Thursday night’s fantastic finish was nearly a lot less fantastic. And if the home team hadn’t scored on the second untimed down after the expiration of the clock, Raiders fans would have been shouting plenty of “F” words other than fantastic.

Before the series of three straight penalties that resulted in the game-winning touchdown, tight end Jared Cook caught what could have been the game-winning touchdown with 18 seconds on the clock. Indeed, the official who was looking right at the play called it a touchdown, meaning that the ruling would be overturned only if the league office found clear and obvious evidence to the contrary.

Yes, the various replay angles (including an excellent look from the pylon camera) showed Cook pinning the ball against his chest with one hand while his butt was on the ground. But Cook was in the process of going to the ground. After he hit the ground, the ball seemed to shifted in his possession as he rolled. He kept it from coming loose and, as we’ve learned over the years, becoming an incompletion.

Here’s the rule: “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”

In this case, it’s fair to interpret the visual evidence as showing Cook not having full and complete and final control of the ball (and thus not completing the catch) until he rolled into the end zone and secured the football after it moved from the spot where it was pinned against his chest. During replay review, that interpretation doesn’t matter. What matters is whether senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron sees “clear and obvious” proof that the official who was looking right at the play got it wrong.

In other words, is it clear and obvious that Cook didn’t finalize the catch via the shifting of the ball as he rolled in to the end zone? If the ball had popped in to the air and landed on the ground as Cook rolled into the end zone, the pass clearly would have been incomplete. More importantly for these circumstances, if the ball had popped in to the air and landed in Cook’s hands after he was in the end zone, the pass clearly would have been complete in the end zone.

What happened on Thursday night was much more subtle. The ball seems to shift as Cook rolls in to the end zone. The core question is whether the shifting of the ball was sufficiently minimal to make it “clear and obvious” that Cook clearly and obviously had full control when his butt landed and the ball was outside the end zone.

If it wasn’t clear and obvious, the ruling on the field shouldn’t have been reversed.

While it’s academic at this point since the Raiders won, it’s important to understand how these rulings are being determined by Riveron. Based on Sunday’s controversial Patriots-Jets outcome and last night’s Cook catch, it could be that clear and obvious evidence is being found in situations where things really aren’t clear or obvious enough to overcome the “50 drunks in a bar” standard for changing the call on the field.