Inside Slant: NFL replay reversals drop amid new interpretation for 'indisputable'


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Twitter chaos, a common affliction, broke out Thursday night during the third quarter of the Dallas Cowboys' 41-28 victory over the Chicago Bears. Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley had been credited with a 24-yard touchdown reception despite replays that suggested he was down before the ball crossed the plane of the end zone.

The NFL Network broadcast, however, did not have the definitive goal-line view that could overturn referee Ed Hochuli's call via booth review. As a result, the touchdown stood -- underlying a clear trend that has developed in NFL replay this season.

As the chart shows, the success rate in overturning calls is down sharply for coaches' challenges and noticeably for those initiated by the replay official as well. The league has without question elevated its interpretation of the "indisputable visual evidence" standard, possibly as a result of several questionable overturns in 2013, and only the most obvious mistakes this season have been fixed.

Here's how the league's vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, described the shift in a recent video produced for media and broadcasters:

"The call on the field is correct unless we have indisputable visual evidence to the contrary, and then we can overturn it, and we are really trying to stick to that standard. You will see that reversals are down this year because we are not going to try to reofficiate the play in the booth. We have a ruling on the field. If it's not clear and obvious that that ruling on the field is incorrect, the call will not be overturned, and that's the standard that we're trying to stick to."

Blandino has been in a prime position to impose this standard in 2014, the first year of a new program that incorporates league executives into the replay process. He was among those in the NFL's New York command center Thursday when Beasley's touchdown came up for review, advising Hochuli on what the replay did and didn't reveal.

There was no question that Beasley's knee was down before the ball touched the pylon, which is considered part of the plane. But because there was no goal-line angle -- an issue for another day -- Hochuli and Blandino couldn't be positive that it hadn't crossed the plane before hitting the pylon.

Is that likely? No. Is it 100 percent indisputable that it didn't happen? No, and that hint of doubt is as good of an encapsulation as we've seen to describe the standard Blandino and crew are applying.

I've had plenty of fans ask why the NFL uses replay at all if not to overturn what seem to be clear mistakes, and to me the answer -- right or wrong -- is clear. The league wants replay to reverse only the most obvious, clear and inarguable gaffes its officials make. If there is a shred of judgment to be made, or any extrapolation necessary, the call is going to stand.

Note: As always, the bar graph at the top of this post documents the per-game frequency of all penalty calls this season by crew. Carl Cheffers' crew continues to be the most active at 19.7 penalties per game, with Brad Allen (13.4) and Clete Blakeman (13.2) continuing to hold up the other end of the bracket.