With Thursday night’s game tied at 23, the Patriots had the ball on the Minnesota six. The third was the goal.
Hunter Henry shot the ball at the goal line and reached it before hitting the ground. He lost possession of the ball and then finished the catch on the field of play.
The official close to the event ruled it was a touchdown. The question on the replay review became whether Henry retained possession after hitting the ground. NFL Vice President 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 go up to them with the pool reporter and ask them about playing? Isn’t that what you do?”
indeed it is. And indeed they did.
Here’s how Anderson explained the decision to assemble reporter Mike Reese of ESPN.com: “He was falling to the ground, the ball ended up touching the ground and then he lost control of the ball in his hands.”
Why didn’t Henry judge possession before the ball hit the ground?
“Because while he’s going to the ground, he has to keep control of the ball on contact with the ground,” said Anderson. “The commonly used term is ‘surviving the ground.’ A lot of people refer to that. So, as he goes to the ground, he has the elements of two feet and control, but because he goes to the ground, he has to maintain control of the ball when he goes to the ground.”
As Reese pointed out to Anderson, Henry had two hands on the ball.
“Well, if he had kept control of the ball with both hands, even if the ball touched the ground, if he didn’t lose control of the ball after it touched the ground, that would still be great.”
The decision raises an interesting question about the application of the “clear and clear” standard. The referee on the field was a catch for a touchdown. To review the replay, here is the correct question: Is the field referee clearly and explicitly wrong?
There are two separate components to the “clear and clear” standard in this case. It was really clear and obvious that Henry lost possession when he went down and regained possession just outside the 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 enough to not catch it at all?
Remember that reflections are only supposed to happen when they are clear and visible. Fifty drunkards must agree to a tavern, as it is often described.
In this case, it seems plain and clear that it wasn’t a downturn. But it doesn’t seem clear and obvious that it wasn’t a problem; Henry’s hand was under the ball at all times. Thus, it could be argued that New England should have had the ball outside Minnesota’s end zone, fourth down and goal.
While the Patriots might have opted for the field goal and the lead 26-23, the Patriots might have opted to try to hit it for a touchdown. If the process was right with the “fifty drunk in the tavern” standard, the Patriots should have had that option.