Commentary

Replay on all field goals probably a long shot

There simply aren't enough cameras to provide irrefutable video evidence for all field-goal tries, and even if there were, different angles might produce different interpretations, league executives said.

Originally Published: November 20, 2007
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

Subjecting field-goal tries to instant replay seems logical after Cleveland's Phil Dawson sent one ricocheting into NFL lore Sunday.

But as with most proposed rules changes, including the logical ones, this one would face skepticism.

There simply aren't enough cameras to provide irrefutable video evidence for all field-goal tries, and even if there were, different angles might produce different interpretations, league executives said.

[+] EnlargePhil Dawson kick ruling
AP Photo/Nick WassAs one NFL executive asked regarding the on-field debate about Phil Dawson's 51-yard fourth-period, game-tying field goal: "Why did it take so long?"

Executives would only discuss the matter on condition of anonymity because the league remains sensitive about the handling of the play that helped Cleveland beat Baltimore in overtime, 33-30. The Ravens planned to file a complaint after referee Peter Morelli reversed his original call following an extended delay that included a chat with replay official Howard Slavin. But coach Brian Billick declined to address specifics at his news conference Monday.

"By the letter of the law, Baltimore should have won the game," one executive said. "If [Dawson] missed the kick, the officials made a mistake. If you're the Browns, you say, 'Get it right now.' But there are plays that they miss all the time that are not reviewable plays, and it's just tough.

"My question would be, 'Why did it take so long?'"

While controversial field goals are nothing new in the NFL, Dawson's 51-yard effort to force overtime in Baltimore might have been unique. The ball bounced off the left upright and over the crossbar, but only briefly. The ball slammed into the gooseneck atop the support post, sending it back through the uprights and toward the field -- leaving the appearance that the kick had missed.

The sequence happened so quickly that officials initially ruled the kick no good. Replays showed otherwise. Morelli conferred with Slavin over headphones. He also huddled at length with officials on the field before reversing the call. Dawson's 33-yarder in overtime severely damaged Baltimore's playoff chances.

All parties insisted replay never factored into Morelli's unusual reversal. But the broader question would be, "Should replay apply to such plays in the future?"

"The ball going over the [upright] would be a gray area to me," another executive said. "But hitting the gooseneck, that is probably something the league could look at."

Non-reviewable calls
Here are nine types of plays the NFL lists as falling outside the scope of replay review.
1. Status of the clock
2. Proper down
3. Penalty administration
4. Runner ruled down by defensive contact (not involving fumbles)
5. Forward progress not relating to first down or goal line
6. Forceouts
7. Recovery of loose ball in the field of play
8. Field goals
9. Inadvertent whistle

Current rules allow replay to cover plays falling under three headings.

The first group involves plays "governed by sideline, goal line, end zone and end line," such as whether a runner broke the plane of the goal line, or if a receiver touched both feet down in play before stepping out of bounds.

The second group involves passing plays, such as whether a quarterback fumbled the ball or threw it forward.

The third group involves "other detectable infractions," including whether a runner was down by contact prior to fumbling.

Field goals fall eighth on a list of nine non-reviewable play types, from force-outs to inadvertent whistles.

Dawson's kick wasn't the first controversial one to hurt Baltimore. A December 1965 kick against the Colts led directly to changes in how the league officiates field goals.

The NFL literally went to great lengths after officials credited Green Bay's Don Chandler with the tying 22-yard try in the Western Conference playoffs at Lambeau Field nearly 42 years ago. Baltimore supporters were adamant that the kick sailed wide right. Even Chandler reacted as though he knew the kick missed.

Officials on the field thought Chandler's kick passed inside the uprights before hooking wide.

The league responded by extending its uprights 10 feet and stationing a second official under the goalposts during field-goal tries. But the damage was done. Chandler's kick had long since sent the Packers to the NFL title game, where they defeated … Cleveland.

Dawson's kick might have been unlike any other, but it was clearly legal under the rules, which read: "The entire ball must pass through the goal. In case wind or other forces cause it to return through the goal, it must have struck the ground or some object or person before returning."

In this case, the object was the gooseneck atop the support post.

Officials made the right call, but only after both teams had left for their locker rooms. The delayed reversal naturally rejuvenated the Browns. The effect wasn't the same for the Ravens. No team should be asked to win a game twice.

"We've talked in training camp about preparing your team for the inevitable things that happen," Billick told reporters, listing everything from losing streaks to quarterback changes. "I was remiss in [not] covering what we do when we've won a game, go into the locker room and are told to come back out and play again -- so, I don't know that I had them adequately prepared for that."

Chandler's disputed kick inspired its own sarcasm. As legend has it, the late Baltimore radio announcer Chuck Thompson signed off subsequent broadcasts by saying "goodnight, wherever you are" to referee Norm Schachter, whose crew worked the game.

Morelli can sleep knowing he made the right call, but swift justice beats belated justice every time. Even if it means subjecting certain field goals to review.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

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