Did Baltimore Raven receiver Lee Evans catch a 19-yard TD pass from QB Joe Flacco with 24-seconds remaining in yesterday’s AFC Championship game against the New England Patriot’s in Foxborough? Or was the ball stripped by Patriot’s cornerback Sterling Moore? Obviously, since it is the Patriots headed to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI to take on the New York Giants in a replay of the 2007 title game, the officials ruled it an incomplete pass.
The call was granted even greater significance when, with the Pats leading 23-20, Raven’s placekicker Billy Cundiff undeniably duck-hooked what would have been the game-tying 32-yard field goal on an ensuing snap, ending the Raven’s season, and ensuring him induction into the NFL’s Hall of Pain alongside Buffalo Bill placekicker Scott Norwood whose missed 47-yard field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV against the New York Giants led to four consecutive Super Bowl losses for the Bills. At least Norwood’s kick barely missed from a long distance. Cundiff’s malard wasn’t even within quacking distance from all but gimme range for a pro.
But let’s return to the matter of the Lee Evans catch/non-catch. With slow motion replay now in place, it is possible to autopsy NFL plays to a degree which is both beyond the scope of the human eye to resolve at game speed, and at the same time, to alter almost any call beyond the comfort level of even the most die-hard fan to accept.
When dissected in super slo-mo, Evans can be seen cradling Flacco’s back-shoulder pass as he lands on his right foot, but just as his left foot is contacting the ground, the Patriot’s savior, Sterling Moore, chops the pigskin from his grasp, sending it harmlessly to the ground. According to the NFL rule, “If a player controls the ball while in the end zone, both feet, or any part of his body other than his hands, must be completely on the ground before losing control, or the pass is incomplete.” By that reading, the replay can be whatever you want it to be. What does “completely” mean in that context? At what point is completely complete? And that’s the problem. Even definitive replay isn’t definitive. And don’t get me started on holding calls or pass interference, much less New England’s original gift, the Tuck Rule from the Raider’s game ten years ago which made what looked like an obvious fumble by Tom Brady somehow become an incomplete pass leading to Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning, snow-blinded 45-yard field goal which sent the Pats off to their first of three Super Bowl titles. (more…)