Steelers vs. Giants Fumble Call Was Correct: Roethlisberger & NFL's Recock Rule
When, with 5:26 remaining in the second quarter of Sunday's Steelers vs. Giants contest, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's ill-fated pass attempt turned into points for the opposition, many football fans—those with Pittsburgh and New York affiliations alike—were left wondering why, after instant replay review, the officials' on-field ruling of "fumble and touchdown" was not overturned.
During the contested play, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora's hand struck Roethlisberger's right arm as he attempted to throw the football, materially affecting the quarterback's pass attempt and initiating a sequence in which Giants linebacker Michael Boley recovered the loose football and returned it for a Giants touchdown.
As all scoring—and fumble—plays are subject to review this season, the replay official requested referee Bill Leavy consult instant replay to determine whether to overturn the ruling on the field of touchdown.
During his review, Leavy considered several key rules, such as 8-1-1, which specifies that an attempt is a forward pass if "the ball initially moves forward" or if "contact by an opponent materially affects [the passer], causing the ball to go backward." Given these provisions, it would appear Leavy could have ruled an incomplete pass.
However, the NFL's little-known recock rule—8-1-1-c—complicates matters.
The rule specifies that if a "passer loses possession of the ball while attempting to recock his arm, it is a fumble." OK, so what is a recock and what is possession?
Rule 3-2-7-1 defines possession as a player's "firm grip and control" of the football. After contact with Umenyiora, it is possible that Roethlisberger lost his firm grip/control, therefore losing possession.
As for "recock," Webster's defines the action as, "to lift; to be prepared to be triggered; to turn or twist upward or to one side" (the NFL book does not define the term differently).
Therefore, evidence suggests Roethlisberger might have recocked his arm and might have lost possession of the football at some point from Umenyiora's contact through his release of the football. Accordingly, Rule 8-1-1-c might be relevant and might indicate the call on the field of "fumble" was correct.
Then again, it might not.
NFL replay rule 18-9 specifies that for a call to be overturned, there must exist "indisputable visual evidence" to suggest the call has been made in error. Maybe is not good enough.
This explains why, when Leavy addressed the MetLife Stadium crowd, he specified the call on the field shall stand, indicating a lack of indisputable visual evidence with which to overturn the ruling.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.
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