Hunter Henry touchdown vs. Walt Anderson: The ball touches the ground and the player loses control
In Thursday night’s game tied at 23, the Patriots had the ball at the Minnesota six. It was third and goal.
tight ends Hunter Henry Catches the ball on the goal line and passes it before hitting the ground. He lost possession of the ball and finished the catch on the playing field.
The official closest to the action ruled it was a touchdown. Replay review questioned whether Henry retained possession after hitting the ground. NFL Sr. VP of Officiating Walt Anderson, who handles all replay-review questions, ruled that the ball hit the ground when Henry landed, making it an incomplete pass.
After the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters, “Why don’t you take your pool reporter up to them and ask them about the game? Don’t you?“
Indeed so. And indeed they did.
Here’s how Anderson explained the decision to ESPN.com pool reporter Mike Reiss: “He was going to the ground, the ball ended up touching the ground and then he lost control of the ball in his hands.”
Why wasn’t Henry ordered to take possession before the ball hit the ground?
“Because when he’s going down the field, he has to maintain control of the ball when he makes contact with the field,” Anderson said. “The term that is commonly used is ‘living off the land.’ A lot of people mentioned that. So, when he goes to the ground, he has two feet and elements of control, but because he’s going to the ground, he has to maintain control of the ball when he goes to the ground.”
Henry had two hands on the ball, pointing to Reiss Anderson.
“Well, if he had kept control of the ball with both hands, even if the ball had touched the ground, if you didn’t lose control after the ball touched the ground, it would have been a catch.”
The decision raises an interesting question regarding the application of the “clear and obvious” standard. The ruling on the field was a catch for a touchdown. For replay review, here’s the right question: Was the on-field ruling clearly and obviously wrong?
The “clear and obvious” standard has two separate components in this case. It was really clear and obvious that Henry lost possession when he landed and recovered in the short end zone. That would have given New England the ball at the one-inch line, fourth-and-goal.
But was it clear and obvious that the ball hit the ground and moved sufficiently so that it was not a catch at all?
Remember, reversal can happen only when it is clear and obvious. Fifty drunks in a bar must agree, as is often described.
In this case, it seems clear and obvious that it was not a touchdown. But it doesn’t seem clear and obvious that it wasn’t a catch; Henry’s hand was always under the ball. Thus, New England arguably should have had the ball out of the Minnesota end zone, fourth and goal.
Although it is possible that the Patriots would have opted for the field goal and a 26-23 lead, the Patriots could have tried to punch it for a touchdown. If the process had held true to the “50 drunks in a bar” standard, the Patriots should have had that option.
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