Like the rest of the Raider Nation I was shocked Monday night when the officials, in their ridiculous orange striped uniforms, inexplicably chose to review Louis Murphy’s 19 yard touchdown reception with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, and then overturn the call and negated the touchdown.
This was a pivitol point in the game since the Raiders had to settle for a field goal, and the invigorated Chargers drove for their own field goal as time expired in the half. But emotions aside, let’s examine the facts involved.
Facts: What Happened
The facts on this play as I see it, after looking at multiple slow motion replays:
Murphy leapt in the air and grabbed the ball with both hands, well within the boundaries of the end zone.
He shifted the ball to his right hand and wedged it against his chest as he came down to the ground.
He landed on his left foot, then his right foot as his left foot remained in contact with the ground. At this time there was no indication that the ball was slipping from his grasp, and not grasped firmly in his possession.
As Murphy went to the ground (in contact with the defensive back), his right elbow struck the ground with the ball still between his hand, arm and chest. The ball appeared to contact the ground about the same time as his elbow, certainly not before.
While rolling across the ground, the ball eventually slipped from his grasp a little.
The play was called a touchdown and then the officiating crew decided to review the call.
The officials overturned the touchdown reception, saying the receiver lost possession as he went to the ground.
In the second half ESPN showed a view of the play, showing Murphy’s back, that they indicated was used by the referee to overturn the call. It did not show the ball prior to Murphy's feet contacting the ground.
Facts: The Rules
In examining the Digest of Rules of the National Football League, one entry applies, as follows:
“A forward pass is complete when a receiver clearly possesses the pass and touches the ground with both feet inbounds while in possession of the ball.“
Since the NFL does not post the complete 2009 NFL rule book on its website, an online copy of the 2008 NFL rulebook was found that indicates the following:
Possession. To gain possession of a loose ball (3-2-3) that has been caught, intercepted, or recovered, a player must have complete control of the ball and have both feet completely on the ground inbounds or any other part of his body, other than his hands, on the ground inbounds.
If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any other part of his body to the ground or if there is any doubt that the acts were simultaneous, there is no possession. This rule applies in the field of play and in the end zone. The terms catch, intercept, recover, advance, and fumble denote player possession (as distinguished from touching or muffing).
Note 1: A player who goes to the ground in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball (with or without contact by a defender) must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, there is no possession.
If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, it is a catch, interception, or recovery.
Note 3: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.
Reviews by Referee. All Replay Reviews will be conducted by the Referee on a field-level monitor after consultation with the other covering official(s), prior to review. A decision will be reversed only when the Referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him that warrants the change.
Based on the facts, and not emotions, it is apparent that the play was a touchdown, for the following reasons.
When Murphy came down in the end zone with both feet on the ground and in possession of the ball, it’s a touchdown. He did not need to go to the ground and still possess this ball. This just isn’t in the rules.
There was no view of the play on ESPN, including the view that the replay booth said was used to overturn the touchdown, that showed the ball was not in Murphy’s possession when his feet came down. Therefore there was not indisputable visual evidence that warrants overturning the call on the field.
There are doubtlessly hundreds of situations where similar receptions are not overturned. Consider a recent reception that was reviewed by a top NFL officiating crew, the Santonio Holmes TD reception in Superbowl 43, as seen in the following clip. http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=santonio+holmes+superbowl+catch&hl=en&emb=0&aq=f
In this case the referee who reviewed the play indicated at the end of the clip that it was a touchdown reception because "the receiver controlled the football and came down with both feet in bounds". There was no mention that he maintained possession of the ball when going to the ground.
Was I surprised at the call? Not really, the Raiders have been getting the short end of the stick when it comes to officiating crew calls ever since the holy roller.