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Head official wants no change in fumble rule

Status quo

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2002

PITTSBURGH -- The head of the NFL's officiating department wants to keep the rule that led to the replay decision that helped New England beat Oakland in Saturday's playoff game.

''This wasn't an unusual occurrence,'' Mike Pereira said Tuesday. ''This happens several times a year. It's not like this is a fluke that happens once every 10 years. We discussed it in 1999 and we decided to keep it just the way it is. I don't think we should change it now.''

The play occurred with 1:43 left in regulation and the Patriots trailing 13-10.

New England quarterback Tom Brady was hit by Oakland's Charles Woodson and the ball came loose. It was recovered by the Raiders, apparently clinching the game for Oakland.

But it was reversed on replay when referee Walt Coleman ruled that Brady's arm was coming forward and that he had never tucked the ball completely away. Under the rules, that means it is an incomplete pass.

The Patriots then moved downfield for the tying field goal and won the game 16-13 in overtime to advance to the AFC championship game.

Citing Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2 of the NFL rulebook, Pereira noted that whenever the quarterback moves his arm forward to pass and the ball ends up coming out, it is a forward pass and not a fumble.

In this case, the replay showed that Brady was trying to tuck the ball under his arm when he was hit by Woodson. But it also showed that he did not have complete possession of the ball when he did.

Pereira, speaking from the NFL office in New York, said that rule is the same as any other possession rule, such as a pass reception. If a player does not have complete control of the ball, it is not possession. In this case, that means it is a continuation of the passing motion and thus a forward pass.

''When you're trying to bring it close to your body. it's still a forward pass,'' he said. ''At any time it's released during that motion, it's still a pass. If you get it tucked against your side, then you become a runner, and it's a fumble. But in this case, he never had possession.''

Last year, the league changed a rule on fumble momentum after the officials ruled a safety on players who recovered fumbles in two different games and were carried by their own momentum into the end zone. ''That was something that hadn't happened for years and needed to be corrected,'' Pereira said.

Despite Pereira's feelings, the league could still change the rule. It might, for example, say that if a quarterback is tucking the ball away and it comes out, it is a fumble.

However, the competition committee, which reviews rules changes before the owners vote on them, tends to listen to officiating department in such cases. And Pereira noted that would make the possession rule different in this case than in all others.



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