Walt Anderson on reversal of Hunter Henry touchdown: Ball touched ground and player lost control


Thursday night’s game was tied at 23, with the Patriots holding the ball at the Minnesota 6. It was the third and the goal.

Tight end Hunter Henry caught the ball on the goal line and crossed before it hit the ground. He lost possession and then finished the catch in the box.

An official close to the operation thought it was a hit. The question regarding the replay review is, did Henry have possession after the grounder? Walt Anderson, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, handles all replay questions, and when Henry landed, the ball hit the ground and ruled an incomplete pass.

After the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters, “Why don’t you guys go up to them with your pool reporter and ask them about the game? Isn’t that what you do?

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Indeed it is. And indeed they did.

Anderson explained his decision to collect ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss: “He was about to go down and the ball hit the ground and then he lost control of the ball in his hand.”

Why not give Henry possession of the ball before it hits the ground?

“Because when he goes down, he has to control the ball when he makes contact with the ground,” Anderson said. The term “survival on land” is commonly used. Many people mention it. 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 control the ball when he goes to the ground.”

As Reyes pointed out to Anderson, Henry had both hands on the ball.

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“Well, if he controlled the ball with both hands, even if the ball hit the ground, if you didn’t lose control of the ball after it hit the ground, it would be a catch.”

This decision raises an interesting question about the application of the “clear and obvious” standard. A decision on the field completed the strike. Here’s the right question to revisit: Was the decision on the field clear and wrong?

In this case, there are two separate components of the “clear and intelligible” standard. It was so clear and obvious that Henry lost possession on a touchdown and reasserted possession just short of the end zone. That would have given New England the ball on the one-inch line and fourth-and-goal.

But was it clear and obvious that the ball hit the ground and had enough movement that it was not caught?

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Remember, you should only return when it’s clear and understandable. Fifty drunks sitting at a bar often have to explain it.

In this case, it is clear and obvious that it was not a hit. But it does not seem clear and obvious that it was not a catch; Henry’s hand was always under the ball. So New England should have had the ball out of Minnesota’s end zone on fourth-and-goal.

Although the Patriots might have opted for a field goal and a 26-23 lead, the Patriots might have opted to punt it for a touchdown. If the process was up to the “50 drunks in a bar” standard, the Patriots should have had that option.


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