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New replay rule dooms Redskins

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As if the season could get any worse for the Washington Redskins, they found another improbable way to lose. In this instance, the blunder came in overtime, when fullback Mike Sellers fumbled, and New Orleans recovered at the Redskins 36.

Seven plays later, place kicker Garrett Hartley's 18-yard field goal gave the Saints a 33-30 win. It was a stunning conclusion considering the Redskins led by 10 points with 4 minutes 44 seconds to play in regulation and had outplayed New Orleans virtually all game.

Initially officials said Sellers was down, meaning the Redskins would keep the ball. But before Washington could get off the next snap, Saints Coach Sean Payton called timeout. That stoppage allowed the replay official to review the sequence and, after a lengthy delay, determined Sellers had lost the ball before he was down.

Angry Redskins fans began flooding Internet message boards, including plenty of comments on washingtonpost.com, charging officials with a huge gaffe by awarding New Orleans the ball. Some posters even went so far as to say the game was fixed.

Those conspiracy theorists apparently thought since the play was blown dead, it was not reviewable by rule. They were wrong.

If Redskins fans want to blame the officiating, they have no gripe against referee Carl Cheffers and his crew, who made the right call on the Sellers fumble. They instead should curse Ed Hochuli, whose officiating mistake in a San Diego-Denver game in 2008 initiated a rule change for this season allowing video replays on loose balls or interceptions even if the play was whistled dead.

Officials in the Saints-Redskins game did make a puzzling call early in the second quarter when they whistled New Orleans tight end Jeremy Shockey for pass interference.

Replays showed no defenders near Shockey until he made the reception and was tackled from behind by safety LaRon Landry, who appeared to grasp Shockey's facemask. At the very least, Landry wrapped his hand around the side of Shockey's helmet, which also would warrant a penalty.

The apparent missed call on the Landry-Shockey play was another case of phantom pass interference. You've seen it many times. It's when an official inexplicably throws a flag for pass interference, yet from every replay angle, there's absolutely zero indication the infraction took place.

Perhaps the league should take that up during its next round of rules changes. No doubt coaches, players and fans alike would applaud the NFL if it considered making pass interference a challengeable call.

By Gene Wang  |  December 7, 2009; 12:14 PM ET  | Category:  Refs Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Who writes this stuff? Shouldn't a column titled "Rate the Refs" be written by someone with a clue about NFL rules. They are completely wrong about the ruling on the Sellers fumble in OT. The Hochuli rule does not apply here. In that rule, the refs do NOT blow the whistle so that the players on both teams can attempt to recover the ball. Then after review, the ball can be awarded to the deserving team. In this case, the whistle blew instantly so that nobody contested the loose ball. Therefore, the ball cannot be awarded to the defense. This was a blown call and cost the Skins the game.

Posted by: bitter13 | December 7, 2009 2:24 PM

THAT GAME WAS FIXED./ Every time there is a contrversial call the NFL comes back with these mysterious micromanaged rules. I am not even a Redskins fan, just stating the OBVIOUS... FIXED THE NBA had shady refs or REF anyway. You think everyone else is immune to that?? NO WAY FIXED

Posted by: gcottrill | December 8, 2009 12:42 PM

Wow, this is frustrating.

Please, someone at the Post, anyone!

Seller's elbow on the arm *not* holding the ball was down before the ball came loose. THIS is the problem.

Only if one focuses on the ball-arm does it appear that the ball came loose early.

The call was not correct. Can someone with a clear head please address this point directly, instead of distracting us with the stupid whistle issue??

Posted by: SkinsFaninCanada | December 8, 2009 11:54 PM

Mr. Gene Wang nees to learn some football before letting his pen loose. The Hulochi rule clearly does not apply. #1, he referee called the play dead, #2, Sellers arm NOT holding the ball was down before the ball came loose. Once again we see incompetence from the officiating crew, specially when having so much time to review the play from different angles and slow motion. Washington Post needs to send its sport writers to training camp so they can educate themselves before writting garbage.

Posted by: jpellicier | December 9, 2009 7:20 AM

This article is a slight of hand trick. Look over here everyone at the pass interference call that did not really occur that was called against New Orleans. That makes everything better. What about the New Orleans player diving at Jason Campbell's knees, the new rule, the Tom Brady rule should have been enforced but instead the Redskins where called for holding. Holding is an instant drive killer and a way to control the outcome of the game. Maybe it should be called the "Tom Brady Only" rule. Inconsistent application of the rules, combined with little facts like the replay booth and the on the field under the hood replay screen all being connected via radio lines to the New York head office of the NFL (Head of Offciating) DURING THE GAME! begins to open the door to thoughts of controlling the outcome. At what point, as the league head of officiating is pouring over the rule book searching for a certain outcome is the league office taking control from the on field referees? Add to this the obvious motive on the part of the league club owners and executives (they run for profit businesses that profit from TV revenues which are influenced by compelling storylines and matchups) and further add in teh US$80M to US$120M that is wagered per game, and low paid players like kickers, and you have motive, money, and a strong desire to control outcomes.

Posted by: DownTownClown | December 9, 2009 8:58 AM

Post my comment clown

Posted by: DownTownClown | December 9, 2009 9:02 AM

You cannot continue a play once the whistle has blown period. Players are taught to cease hitting and playing on the whistle, lest they be penalized, so no rule can circumvent a blown whistle.

Posted by: impartial1 | December 9, 2009 9:14 AM

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about the intricacies of the NFL rulebook, but what is easy to understand is the RULE that in order to overturn a call on the field the review must be conclusive.

In no way shape or form was it conclusive that the ball was coming out before Sellers' elbow was down. We could all see the best angle straight on. The announcers went over and over the replay and concluded that he was down or that it was too close to call.

I have never bought into a conspiracy theory before in my life, but I have a brain. You have what was, at best, inconclusive evidence to overturn the call. Meanwhile, hanging in the balance, is the NFL "story" of the year, a 12 game winning streak by a popular team who used to be nobodies playing for a screwed over city rising from the ashes. Compared to that, what is worth to give some lowly nobodies a single win that won't make a difference in their season anyway?

Posted by: mrapier1 | December 9, 2009 10:03 AM

I dont know about a conspiracy but the flags were definately flying in favor of the saints and any other team that plays against the redskins especially NFC teams. It's not just flags and reviews against the redskins it's the non calls and the timing of the calls. I know, u don't believe it right? Ok, just watch the game highlights and every time Brees went back to pass for a long one. He got them every time he needed them even though the saints were tackling DE Orakpo or someone else along the d-line. Go look. Saints played well but were not in this game without the refs.

Posted by: hotwirehenry | December 9, 2009 11:45 AM

This is not a fair rule. When the whistle blows, most players will stop playing the down. How is it fair to reward the other team if the whistle blows and one player reacts to the ref, while the other continues and gets rewarded for recovering a dead ball.
Doesn't make sense. So, Mike should have kept playing and gone after the ball or tackle the guy? Wouldn't that be a personal foul since the play is dead?
Last time I checked, you can't tackle a guy when the play is clearly over.

Posted by: luvdc808 | December 9, 2009 3:52 PM

People can debate for hours whether the ball was tightly in Seller's grip when his elbow finally touched, but because it was such an undeniably close call, the reviewing official's greatest mistake was to essentially decide the game's outcome by making the call he did, reversing the on-field official, in a sudden-death overtime. C'mon, let the players play. That entire game seemed to turn more on the official's decisions than the players plays.

Posted by: gal05 | December 9, 2009 4:21 PM

The Sellers fumble call was close either way, I still don't get how the refs A) awarded the Saints the ball and B) Gave them a timeout back? They didn't challenge the play... they only called a timeout... that indicates to me that something fishy is going on. Furthermore, the refs seemed to spend more time trying to ensure that the Saints crossed the goal line at the end of the play than they did checking to see if the Skin's CB was down by contact after the interception/strip/Saints TD... The refs only seemed meticulous when trying to find opportunities for the Saints. NFL is now up there with the NBA for their BS. Has the NFL even addressed any of the fans concerns in regards to this shotty performance by the refs? Lastly, the above article is terrible and draws conclusions from two separate and unrelated incidents... apparently with the lack of interest in Newspapers these days the Post has resigned to hiring less than intelligent individuals. Maybe the Post should stick to the reporting they do best... blindly supporting the Obama administration!

Posted by: mestizo888 | December 9, 2009 5:30 PM

Agree with everyone that the premature whistle should have ended the play at a time when the ball was "loose," before the Saints gained possession.
NFL Rulebook -- Article 3
If an official inadvertently sounds his whistle during a play, the ball becomes dead immediately:
(a) If the ball is in player possession, the team in possession may elect to put the ball in play where it has been declared dead or to replay the down.
(b) If the ball is a LOOSE BALL RESULTING FROM A FUMBLE, backward pass or illegal
pass, the team LAST IN POSSESSION may elect to put the ball in play at the spot
possession was lost or to replay the down.
. . . (EMPHASIS ADDED)

Posted by: shovelready | December 10, 2009 11:10 AM

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