Titans Need NFL To Figure Out QB Incompletion-Fumble Calls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The NFL has created a version of football where it can be hard to know what a catch is.

And now it’s got a fumble-or-incompletion issue.

Derek Carr
   Arden Key jarred this ball free from Derek Carr, but it was ruled an incomplete pass/ CBS

The Titans’ season ended last year when safety Rayshawn Jenkins stripped Josh Dobbs as he threw and linebacker Josh Allen returned it 37 yards for a touchdown with 2:51 left in a 20-16 Jaguars win that clinched the AFC South title. It could have been ruled an incomplete pass

Then Sunday in New Orleans in a very similar play, Arden Key hit the back of Derek Carr’s hand as he prepared to throw. His hand pushed the ball forward and it was ruled an incomplete pass. Kevin Byard scooped it up but his return was stopped by a whistle and the incomplete call was not changed to a fumble on a review initiated by Mike Vrabel.

The two plays look very similar. [Unlocked]

“You're going to watch throughout the league, next week, it's going to be a fumble, Mike Vrabel said. “The week after that, it's going to be an incompletion. The week after that, it's going to be a fumble. What they're going to tell you in replay is that the call on the field matters. The call on the field is important. I would love for it to let it play out and go to replay.


“Showed a clip last year, same exact situation, I think it was Week One, I think it was the Chargers and Washington, ball on the ground and, every player on our team, I'm like ‘Is it a fumble or an incomplete? ’And they say, ‘We don't know.’ And I said, ‘That's exactly right. Like they know that, they know that they (officials are) not sure.”

Here is how the rule reads:

When a player is in control of the ball and is attempting to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand starts a forward pass.

It seems clear that neither Dobbs nor Carr had control of the ball. Each, rather, was pushing a ball that he’d lost control of forward with his hand.

In my eyes, they’re both fumbles.

Vrabel has practically begged for better officiating consistency, but he didn't appear surprised at all that referee Ronald Torbert and his crew called it as they did and that replay didn't reverse the original; call in New Orleans.

Vrabel would like replay to have more of a say in the play, but the initial call on the field has a lot of power when plays are reviewed. Even if Sunday’s call had been reversed, the Titans would have gotten the ball but not Byard’s big return.

“It’s the speed of the game, let it go to replay and maybe, let them all go to replay and let replay decide,” Vrabel said. “And if maybe ‘clear and obvious’ doesn't get it done, then we need a different term because a lot of these quarterbacks— they're all happening, those are the ones that are hard. Is the ball in the hand? Is it coming forward? I can see where the conflict occurs…

“I think it's a difficult job on the field. I think when you look at it in replay, it becomes somewhat reasonable to expect that you could determine whether it was a forward pass or a fumble. But I know, having stood back behind the quarterback, that is more difficult than some other calls.”

Kuharsky megaphoneGetting it right needs to be the consistent priority, and the league is failing at that on a scale that extends well beyond the two Titans’ plays in question.

So, err on the side of calling fumbles and be slow to whistle the play dead. Relitigating it with replay can wash away what happened by correcting it to an incompletion. If you err on the side of an incompletion and it turns out to be a fumble, you're potentially taking away return yardage. That all seems pretty simple, except they didn't get the replay right at the Caesars Superdome and they don't seem to be getting it right often enough even when it seems plenty clear and obvious.

Because the league doesn’t cure the problem, it leaves some of us thinking it doesn’t mind the problem.

The problem creates columns like this one and fills hours of sports talk radio. There is an element of the league office that thinks any attention is good attention. I believe the league has wound up in a place where it likes a certain level of controversy, and if it comes out of officiating, so be it.

After all, with some clear issues – some of which seemed to be baked into the game – commissioner Roger Goodell said in January of his league’s officiating: "I don't think it's ever been better."

Azeez Al-Shaair said Byard scooping the ball and taking it to the end zone was perfect execution of what Vrabel coaches the Titans to do in such situations. The linebacker said he's not paid to make the call, and he lets the officials do their job, "but you can't ever really, I guess, count on the ref to do anything for you."

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