Dirty Laundry: 'Indisputable' evidence

December, 23, 2009
12/23/09
12:45
PM ET
Alex of Gwinn, Miss., is mad as heck and not going to take it anymore. Here’s what Alex dropped into the mailbag: “In your opinion, was the overturned fumble caused by Clay Matthews the worst overturned challenge of the year? What happened to ‘indisputable visual evidence?’”

The play in question occurred late in the first quarter of Green Bay’s 37-36 loss at Pittsburgh. Referee John Parry’s crew originally ruled Matthews had sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a seven yard loss, causing a fumble that Matthews also recovered.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenged the play, arguing that Roethlisberger’s arm was moving forward before Matthews hit him. If true, NFL rules call for the play to be ruled an incomplete pass -- negating the sack and turnover.

As Alex notes, the NFL rule book is clear on how officials should approach replay reviews: “A decision will be reversed only when the Referee has indisputable visual evidence available that warrants the change.”

FOX’s camera crew offered a number of clear angles, and I just watched those replays a dozen times. I even slowed down the sequence to a frame-by-frame pace to see if, as NFL rules require, “the ball initially moves forward after leaving the passer’s hand.” I’m sorry, but I can’t see it.

There is a frame where Roethlisberger is holding the ball behind his head. Matthews’ right hand is outstretched and about an inch away from the ball. On the next frame, the collision has already occurred.

It’s possible that the ball moved forward a millisecond before Matthews’ hand arrived. But nothing I saw was indisputable. It wasn’t a matter of not having a camera angle; it was simply a very close call.

Even Roethlisberger seemed surprised the Steelers won the challenge. You don’t have to be a lip reader to know what he said after Parry reversed the call: “Wow.”

Ultimately, the decision resulted in 46 yards of lost field position for the Packers. Instead of taking over on the Steelers’ 27-yard line, they got it at their own 27 following a punt.

I don’t know if I would call it “the worst overturned challenge of the year,” but I don’t think this is the kind of play originally contemplated for instant replay.

On to our updated Challenge Tracker:

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