NFL Playoffs 2001 NFL Playoffs 2001


Rule change possible

NFL explains key ruling in Raiders-Patriots game

Posted: Sunday January 20, 2002 5:43 PM
  Tom Brady Tom Brady's fumble in the final two minutes was reviewed by referee Walt Coleman and ruled to be an incomplete pass. AP

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- 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.

Recent close calls in NFL games
  • Jan. 8, 2000: The Music City Miracle. Down 16-15 in the final seconds of a playoff game, the Tennessee Titans stun Buffalo when Kevin Dyson streaks 75 yards with a lateral from Frank Wycheck on a kickoff return. The Bills are convinced the trick play, called Home Run Throwback, involved a forward, cross-field throw by Wycheck. But fans at Adelphia Coliseum cheer like crazy when referee Phil Luckett reviews the lateral on video replay and rules it legal. The TD with 3 seconds left gives Tennessee a 22-16 victory.

  • Oct. 10, 1999: Dan Marino gets another chance, and the Dolphins win at Indianapolis 34-31. Miami was down when Marino was sacked and fumbled with 1:16 left. The Colts recover. But after watching a replay, officials said Marino's arm was going forward and ruled it an incomplete pass. The Dolphins rally on Marino's TD pass to Oronde Gadsden with 27 seconds left.

  • Jan. 3, 1999: Jerry Rice gets a break, and San Francisco beats Green Bay 30-27 in the playoffs. With time running out and the host 49ers down 27-23, Rice catches his first pass of the game and runs, but the ball comes loose and the Packers recover. The officials, who do not have the benefit of instant replay, rule Rice was down before the fumble - TV replays clearly show he fumbled. Four plays later, Steve Young hits Terrell Owens between three defenders for a 25-yard TD pass with 3 seconds left.

  • Jan. 2, 1999: The Bills lose an apparent touchdown and a playoff game at Miami. Trailing 24-14, Buffalo's Andre Reed appears to make a TD catch with 1:47 left. But officials rule Reed down at the 1 and he erupts, draws a 15-yard penalty and gets ejected. The NFL does not have video replay and the call stands. The Bills manage only a field goal and, after recovering an onsides kick, fumble away their final chance in a 24-17 defeat. 

    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 head 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.

    NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2
    Note 2: When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, 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. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.

    Note 3: If the player loses possession of the ball while attempting to recock his arm, it is a fumble. 

    The rule in question was added for the 2000 season and 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."

    Related information
    Patriots snow under Raiders 16-13 in overtime
    Controversial replay overrule keeps Patriots alive in playoffs
    Raiders-Patriots draws large audience
    Visit Video Plus for the latest audio and video
    Search our site Watch CNN/SI 24 hours a day
    Sports Illustrated and CNN have combined to form a 24 hour sports news and information channel. To receive CNN/SI at your home call your cable operator or DirecTV.

    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.