The Week 7 Mailbag
Many of you wrote in Monday to ask about the fumble at the end of Rams-Seahawks, the miscue that infuriated Seattle and had a huge effect on the outcome of the game, a 28-26 St. Louis victory. I spoke to the NFL officiating czar, Dean Blandino, on Monday for clarification, so let's delve into that atop the mailbag.
The situation: Rams up 28-26, 1:14 left in the fourth quarter, third-and-one for St. Louis at the Rams 45. Seattle had no timeouts left. The Seahawks needed a stop here or the game would be over. On the play, Rams running back Tre Mason burst through the line for nine yards, then had the ball punched out of his grasp. The ball bounced forward, and there was a wild chase and attempt to recover the ball.
I watched the replay several times Monday, from different angles. At first, it appeared the Rams would recover it easily, but it bounced away from a Ram and there was a pigpile for it. Richard Sherman had the ball between his legs at one point, as he was down on all fours, but there was never evidence that Sherman possessed the ball--in other words, he didn't have possession with his hands or arms. And then a blizzard of bodies surrounded Sherman and rooted around for the ball. When the officials went in to try to find out who recovered it, they ruled that St. Louis tight end Cory Harkey had it and awarded the Rams the ball.
Now, inside two minutes of each half, all questionable plays are handled by the replay booth—and, this year, the centralized replay system in the NFL's New York office contributes a fresh set of eyes. So after the ref, Brad Allen, made his call on the field, the replay official, Jim Lapetina, and the New York crew led by Blandino and his second set of eyes there, Alberto Riveron, began to look at the call.
If, before the next play begins, either the replay official or the New York officiating center believes more time is needed to determine whether the ruling on the field is correct, they call for a stoppage of play, and a replay review is initiated. But in this case, Blandino said he looked at two replays of the play and never could see a clear recovery.
"If there's no video of a clear recovery before it goes into the pile,'' Blandino said, "then there's nothing that replay can do. There's no angle that would show you what's happening at the bottom of the pile. You need to see clear possession of a fumble before the ball goes into the pile, and you never had that here. In the pile, two Rams players had possession of the ball, and the officials rule blue ball. [The Rams were wearing blue.]''
To clarify: Yes, it's a reviewable play. But if the replay official or centralized replay in New York had seen any evidence of a recovery, the game would have been stopped and a full replay review initiated. They just never saw that evidence. Said Blandino: "It's reviewable as to who recovered the ball. If there was evidence Sherman possessed the ball, there would have been a review, but we saw no evidence of that. We reviewed the play, and both Al and I were watching it, running it back and forth, and we didn't see any evidence of a clear recovery.''
Blandino and Lapetina would have saved some face and done a good PR thing if they'd just stopped play and started an official review. But they had no way of knowing if would become a cause célèbre. Either way, there's little to no chance the play would have been changed and the ball handed to Seattle.
Now onto your email:
MONSTER PROBLEMS ON THE MIDWAY? Do you think Brandon Marshall was digging at Jay Cutler in his post-game interview? He said, 'Same mistakes, same mistakes, same mistakes. We've got to protect the football. We've got to protect the football. We've got to execute the game plan. We've got to adjust when things don't go as we saw on the film. We've got Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte. We've got a stud offensive line. We've got a great, great group of guys, and this is unacceptable." Cutler is omitted from Marshall's comments. Is there trouble in the Bears locker room between Cutler and Marshall?
—Matt, Riverwoods, Ill.
Marshall, clearly, was ticked off at Cutler on Sunday. If you watched Marshall's "A Football Life" on NFL Network, you'd have seen the complicated relationship they have. I doubt it's anything permanent, but I'm sure Marc Trestman will talk to Marshall this week about keeping his comments in-house.
RUGGER TURNED GRIDDER. Just wondered what your thoughts were on the news that Jarryd Hayne has quit the National Rugby League to give football a try? I think the most transferable skills are probably tackling skills but putting such a talent with ball in hand on defense would be a real waste. He is talking about returning as being his best starting point, which I can see is probably the easiest position to learn from a technical standpoint.
—Anthony, Sydney, Australia
I heard about this over the weekend, but in the crush of everything else, I neglected to ask anybody in positions of football authority if they have any interest. It is an odd time of the year for anybody to be approaching an NFL team trying to get a job. Odd, but not impossible. The better time obviously would be in February, March or April. But he sure seems like an interesting athletic prospect. We’ll see if somebody gives him a shot.
PILING ON. After seeing the Luke Kuechly incident this weekend, I wonder—should the NFL implement a penalty for players who aggressively pull opposing players off of a pile after the play has been blown dead? It seems like it is happening more frequently and the referees seem to let it go.
—Andy, Lafayette, Calif.
Interesting question. I think this is one of those things that the NFL, after the season, will consider making a point of emphasis for the 2015 season. What that means is that players would be told in the preseason that such tactics could result in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. And usually in cases like this, when officials go around to training camps during the summer, they educate players on what they’re going to be looking for during the season. This strikes me as something the NFL really should consider policing more seriously.
THROWING SHADE. During the Cowboys-Giants game the announcers bought up how much the sun shining through the windows in the stadium was bothering the players. Has anyone ever asked Jerry Jones how he could spend over a billion dollars on the stadium and not bother to figure how that stadium should be positioned so the sun would not cause a problem? Would curtains have brought the price tag to over $2 billion?
—Robert, Fort Worth, Texas
This is an interesting issue. I know some players who have played there on sunny afternoons believe that they should have a face shield on their helmet with basic sunglass-type protection. I also know that the NFL is not that happy with it, because the instant replay booth stares right into that sun. I’m guessing the league and the Cowboys will address this at some point soon. They certainly should.
THE NUMBERS GAME. Why does the NFL only allow 46 out of 53 players to dress for game days? These inactive players are getting paid the same and more players being allowed in games might reduce injuries overall, which everyone would agree is a good thing. I’ve never understood the NFL’s rationale for this. Any light you can shed on the matter would be helpful.
—Paul, San Francisco
In theory, the reason is that most often the 53 players who are on the active roster are not all healthy. So the NFL’s original thought on this was that you could choose from a pool of 53 players and pick the 46 you need that particular week. The fear, obviously, is that a beat up team might dress 46 one week while a relatively healthy team could dress 51 or 52. The problem there, obviously, is that one team would have a larger pool of players to choose from during a game than the other. Overall, however, I think the NFL needs to liberalize this rule and allow more than 46 players to dress, especially for games played on short weeks.
MANNING IN HIS PRIME. Do you think Peyton Manning's revival or new-found "prime" correlates with the new officiating rules and inflated numbers? I have no doubt that he is one of the greatest and I thought he was done after the surgeries, but how much of this has to do with the rule changes in regards to covering receivers?
I believe it has more to do with the multiplicity of weapons he has in Denver compared to those he had in Indianapolis. John Elway has said, in essence, that he knows he has a tight window to win a Super Bowl with Manning on board. That’s why he has done things like spend on Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders, even though the Broncos were relatively healthy at the receiver position. I also think there is some merit to what Manning told me Sunday night: When he had to go back and rebuild the muscles in his neck, shoulder and arm, it was almost as if he was learning to throw all over again. With his former college coach, David Cutcliffe, helping, Manning worked to retool his throwing mechanics from, as he said, “ground zero.” So I think the combination of mechanical work and better skill players around him combined to make him better at 38 than he was at, say, 33. But it still is an extraordinary story.
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