Duke Johnson has the ball. (Via NFL Network)

If we lived in Cleveland, we would still be debating just how much might have changed on Sunday had officials decided that Duke Johnson recovered his own fourth-quarter fumble just past midfield, with the Browns driving and down by four. (Also, our votes in the presidential election would matter much more. Also, beer would be so cheap, and traffic so swiftly moving. Also, we would live in Cleveland.)

But the Redskins pulled away and won by 11, and so there’s been very little looking back in Washington. Still, after all those images of Johnson coming out of the pile while holding the football, there have been questions nationally about the decision to give the ball to the Redskins with virtually no debate and no lengthy review, and NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino went on NFL Network Tuesday evening to answer them.

“The official says that the Redskins have recovered the football while Johnson is clearly holding a football,” noted host Dan Hellie. “Dean, this one seemed pretty clear cut for the most part.”

Not so!

“Yeah, let’s take a look at what happened,” Blandino said, turning to replays of the play. “We have the fumble, and I want you to watch the line judge at the top of the screen. The ball’s going to go into the pile, the line judge has a really good look at it, and what we’re going to rule is that Washington recovered it and then the Cleveland player pulled it way from Washington. So obviously Johnson comes out of the pile with the football, the line judge comes in. We’ve already ruled possession. We’re not digging at that point. What we’re doing is signaling to the players that possession has been established so they don’t continue to fight, and we do that for player safety reasons.


She has the perfect view. (Via NFL Network)

“Now it goes to replay and we’re reviewing whether the player fumbled, and then who recovered it. It’s clearly a fumble; you’re going to see the football loose right in here. Now we have to see clear evidence that a player recovered the football to give it to that team, and there’s never an angle that shows Johnson recovering the football on the ground. The player coming out of the pile with it is not sufficient evidence, because as we all know, the ball can change hands in the pile. That’s why the replay official reviewed it, the call on the field stood, and the official on the field ruled that Washington did recover it first.”

Fumble truthers would argue that in this case, Johnson emerged from the pile so quickly that it might have been impossible for the Redskins to clearly possess the ball and Johnson then to reverse possession on the ground, before standing up and trying to prove his point with the ball, and man, typing that out really dilutes the power of the argument.

“It’s quick, but we want our officials — if they have clear evidence that a player has possession — we want to rule immediately,” Blandino said. “Because you don’t want an extended scrum where players could potentially get injured.”

Safety first in the NFL, as always!

“But it was a bad visual,” Hellie said.

“No question, no question it’s a bad visual when you have the player holding the football and the official signaling,” Blandino agreed. “But the line judge had already ruled possession prior to that, and we don’t have evidence as to whether Washington recovered it or Cleveland recovered it, so we have to go with what the official called on the field.”

I’m not sure what in that pile of words anyone could object to, exactly, other than perhaps the safety risk of waiting an extra two seconds to decide while players fight over a ball that isn’t even in the pile. And if there’s an angle that shows Johnson, or anyone else, clearly recovering the football, I sure haven’t seen it.

Maybe, though, this incident could at least convince Redskins backers that there isn’t a grand conspiracy by NFL officials to harm their team. Probably not, but maybe.

If you missed it, Santana Moss publicly wondered about that issue last week. After 106.7 The Fan’s Chad Dukes said it seems like tossup calls have been going against Washington for years, Moss agreed, saying “we haven’t been getting those calls forever,” that “it seems like we’re always in penalty trouble,” and that “it always boils down to a touchdown, or something of a big play that’s being taken away from us that ends up having us in the losing column.”

“I’m away from the game now, so they can’t fine me,” Moss said. “But the officials, man. Do they have anything out for the Redskins? I don’t know. But it seemed like whatever it is about us, every time we faced someone, they was going to have control of how we play the game. It don’t matter if we take a lead or if we’re behind, they show us that, as soon as we get a little breath of fresh air and we’re moving and everything’s going smooth, it’s something that’s gonna put a dagger in our drive or a dagger in that performance.”

Anyhow, at least one Redskins player thought this was the right call.