NFL explains controversial ruling

Pass or fumble?

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2002

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Upon further review, the NFL will review its rule governing what separates a fumble from an incomplete pass.

What the league won't do is reconsider instant replay.

The league's competition committee will take a look, possibly as soon as its meeting next month, at Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, which played a key role in the outcome of the AFC playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.

''Is it a good or bad rule? I guess that's for them to decide,'' Mike Pereira, the NFL's director of officiating, said Sunday by telephone from St. Louis.

''I don't think I'd be doing my job if I didn't bring it up'' with the competition committee.

Referee Walt Coleman reversed his own call on a was-it-a-fumble-or-an-incompletion play late in the fourth quarter Saturday night, a change that helped the Patriots beat the Raiders 16-13 in overtime and advance to the AFC championship game.

''I feel like we had one taken away from us,'' Oakland's Jerry Rice said.

New England trailed 13-10 with 1:43 left in the fourth quarter when quarterback Tom Brady was hit by cornerback Charles Woodson and lost the ball after going back to pass. Linebacker Greg Biekert pounced on it, and Coleman initially ruled it a fumble because Brady appeared to be trying to bring the ball back in when he lost control.

But after reviewing replays, Coleman changed his mind and ruled an incomplete pass, determining that Brady's arm was moving forward when he was hit by Woodson.

The Patriots tied the game on Adam Vinatieri's 45-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter and won it on his 23-yarder at 8:29 of overtime

Coleman applied the rule which states, in part, ''any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body.''

Pereira said the call was correct, adding, ''If you want to disagree with the rule, that's another thing. Fans or media people may not like the rule, but it is a rule.''

Pereira said the play would not lead to reconsideration of the entire replay system when competition committee members meet in Dallas on Feb. 14-15, then in Naples, Fla., on March 8-15.

''To me, there's no question based on that wording how it should be ruled,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Sunday.

The Patriots wouldn't be expected to question the ruling, of course. After all, it helped them get to next weekend's AFC championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens 27-10 Sunday.

The disputed play overshadowed a thrilling game played in a steady snowstorm. Brady threw for 312 yards, and the Raiders squandered a 13-3 lead after three quarters.

The rule in question relieved officials of the burden of deciding a quarterback's intent when he brings his arm forward, Pereira said. In other words, officials are not supposed to ask themselves: Did the quarterback intend to throw a pass or was he trying to tuck the ball in and run?

In a similar play in the second game of the season, the Patriots recovered an apparent fumble by Vinny Testaverde of the New York Jets but it was ruled an incomplete pass after being reviewed. The Jets went on to win 10-3.

''Anything as high profile as we had last night certainly will be looked at and there will be some discussion,'' Pereira said, ''but one play like last night is not enough to change the rule.''

Expecting questions about the play while he attended Sunday's NFC playoff game in St. Louis, Pereira carried a football with him so he could demonstrate.

''Brady, at that point, was not trying to pass the ball,'' he said, ''but it comes to his (left) hand. He never controlled it long enough to consider him a runner, nor does he try to bring it up again to pass.''



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