Benjamin’s left toe had appeared to scrape the turf after he initially corralled the pass, but the NFL’s head of officiating, Al Riveron, offered this explanation of the ruling on Twitter:
“When Kelvin Benjamin gains control, his left foot is off the ground. The receiver only has one foot down in bounds with control. Therefore, it is an incomplete pass.”
Bills fans weren’t the only ones who took issue with the league’s ruling. A former NFL executive in charge of officiating, Mike Pereira, said on Twitter, “Don’t see how the Buffalo TD was overturned. Not clear and obvious the toe didn’t drag. There is a line behind the toe when he drags it. Am I missing something?”
“Nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it,” Pereira added. “It is more and more obvious that there isn’t a standard for staying with the call on the field.”
Dean Blandino, who succeeded Pereira as the league’s officiating chief and is now a Fox Sports analyst, said of the Benjamin play, “We’re being overly technical. When you look at the angles that were available, there’s nothing clear and obvious to overturn the call on the field.”
Others took to Twitter to express their dismay.
It did not go unnoticed that the Patriots again benefited from a touchdown being overturned. A turning point in last week’s New England win came when the Steelers’ Jesse James was ruled to have lost control of the ball as he hit the ground following a catch, negating a last-minute touchdown that almost certainly would have given Pittsburgh a crucial victory. Earlier in the season, many were surprised when the Jets’ Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a touchdown overturned in what turned into a comeback win by the Patriots.
Noted Boston sports fan Bill Simmons posted wryly on Twitter, “I love instant replay — it’s been great for the Patriots don’t change anything NFL.”
On CBS’s postgame show following New England’s 37-16 win, the network’s panel agreed that the league did not have enough clear evidence to overturn Benjamin’s touchdown. “These guys have big hands,” Bill Cowher said. “When you go frame-by-frame, the ball may move . . . but they still have control of it.”
Possibly in response to the widespread criticism, the NFL released a video long after the Benjamin play, in which Riveron elaborated on his reasons for overturning the call. His main points were that Benjamin did not appear to have full control of the football while he was dragging his left foot, and then, when he did achieve that control, the foot was slightly off the ground.
The NFL has tried to define receptions and has been fairly consistent maintaining in recent years that a player must have full control of the football while “completing a catch,” either in terms of holding onto the ball while hitting the ground or of making sure he establishes being inbounds. However, Sunday provided the latest instance of the league taking flak for looking too closely at slowed-down video and overturning calls based on less than fully conclusive evidence.
In addition, even after the Deflategate saga, the NFL is now having to endure accusations of favoritism toward the Patriots. The league would surely prefer that everyone simply enjoy the games and complain, if they must, about player performances or coaching decisions, but its video-review process keeps stealing headlines, for the wrong reasons.