November 18, 2007

Conspiracy Theories

There's a lot to say about today's Ravens game, but I just want to make one quick point. Imagine if the game had involved the Patriots. There were two extremely odd plays in the game, both of which went against the Ravens. First, there was a Browns catch that was challenged by the Ravens, but upheld due to "malfunctions" in the review equipment. Second was the field goal attempt at the end of regulation that was ruled no good, then reversed 5 minutes later without actually being "reviewed" (at least according to the announcers).

Leave aside for a minute the fact that both of the plays were eventually called correctly. Imagine the conspiracy theories that would be bandied about if the game had involved the Patriots. If the calls had gone against the Patriots, Bill Simmons would already have a column up about how the NFL doesn't want New England to go 19-0. If the calls had gone for the Patriots, we'd be calling the paramedics to Gregg Easterbrook's house right now.

It's important to remember that sometimes strange things happen in the NFL, and it's not always the product of a vast conspiracy.

J-Red's Response

As the only Ravens fan who contributes, I'd like to feel screwed by the officials. The reality is that the kick is good no matter how you look at it. As discussed here previously, the uprights and crossbar are in bounds on field goal attempts (though out of bounds on punts and all other plays, including kickoffs). The "support" bar, on the other hand, is out of bounds. The Dawson kick struck an upright (in bounds), and then the support bar (out of bounds). The correct ruling is that the ball is dead upon striking something out of bounds, just as if the ball had hit the net or one of the net supports. When the ball touched something out of bounds, it had totally passed through the plane of the goal posts, and thus was a successful kick.

Most Ravens fans seem to accept this, but I was particularly troubled by the fans who believed the Ravens got screwed because field goal tries are not reviewable (And they aren't, because the two officials standing under the goal posts have simultaneous access to two critical pieces of information - when the ball passes the "plane" and whether the ball passed inside, outside, or over the upright. No camera angle would provide both.) Referee Peter Morelli was clear when he explained that that he was not going to review the play, but rather discuss it. I suspect both officials under the goal post saw the ball hit the support bar, but did not know immediately what that actually meant. There is nothing in the NFL Digest of Rules on point, but the officials use a huge and immaculately detailed interpretations guide as well, which is not easily available to the public. I suspect the officials discussed their impression of what the rule would be, and Morelli might have even checked upstairs to make sure the replay official (who is the 8th official) did not know of the rule on point.

This was Morelli's dilemma: the call hinged on a rules interpretation. If he ruled that the ball hit the support bar, but came to rest in bounds and thus was not a FG, Cleveland would have immediately protested the decision. If the league ruled that the field goal was good, Cleveland would have had to return to Baltimore at some later date (or even later on Sunday) to play overtime. By ruling that the kick was good, Morelli gave Baltimore the opportunity to play under protest. Assuming they followed protest procedures, if the league determines that the kick should have been disallowed, the Ravens will be credited with a victory and the overtime will be expunged. That won't happen, but it's the equivalent of calling something a fumble when in doubt - a bad fumble call can be repaired, but a bad down-by-contact cannot be.

I suspect this was Morelli's logic. If he screwed it up, it could be fixed. If he upheld the no-good call, the error could not be fixed or could only be fixed in an embarassing manner.

Also, if anyone knows replay it's Peter Morelli. He was the official who overturned Steeler Troy Polamalu's INT in the 2005 playoffs against Indy despite no evidence to support the decision. In a stunning and uncharacteristic move, the league publically announced that Morelli blew the call. That's the equivalent of an appellate court overturning a trial court's decision for "abuse of discretion". Not only is it rare, it requires the higher-ups to explicitly say the lower arbiter made a totally unsupportable error.

6 Responses:

J-Red said...

The video can be seen at

J-Red said...

John Clayton (ESPN), Keith Olbermann (NBC) and Morelli himself are all adamant now that Morelli never saw a replay. The replay official informed him that the play was not reviewable.

That doesn't necessarily mean the replay official didn't tell Morelli where the ball hit, but that's not the official version of the story. One of the two officials standing under the upright saw the ball hit the support, while the other thought it hit the crossbar. Morelli decided that the official who saw it hit beyond the crossbar was correct.

Whether Morelli might have snuck a peak at the scoreboard replay is not known.

J-Red said...

A Ryan Lindell field goal (though down 42-7, you can wonder why the Bills were attempting field goals) displayed why the Dawson kick was unquestionably good.

His long kick struck the SNF camera that is tethered to the center support and bounced back into the field of play. The offcials never hesitated in calling the kick good, as they are probably taught that the camera is dead.

As discussed earlier in this blog, a ball striking the suspended "SkyCam" results in a do-over.

That lends some credence to the idea that the official who saw the ball strike the support basically won an argument over the official who thought the ball struck the crossbar. Kudos to that official, because logically a ball could not strike the center support and come back onto the field of play due to the curve in the center support. The official must have been very certain and very convincing.

I hate that the Ravens lost, but I like that the officials appear to have conferred and corrected a call that would have nearly set Cleveland on fire.

Note to Phil Dawson - Can you just nail your clutch kicks? Take a page from Stover.

"ben" said...

Baltimore has a football team?

Brien said...

One thing is certain to come out of this game: the NFL will make field goals reviewable plays. The college game this year where the FG was overturned should have already made the NFL change this rule. If the refs on the field have a better view and the video is not clear, go with the ruling on the field (like every other time instant replay is used). There's no reason to exclude FGs from replay when there's the possibility of clear video evidence that contradicts the ruling on the field (as in this case).

J-Red said...

I would accept video replay only to determine if the ball passed the crossbar, but not to determine if it is between the uprights.

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