NFL is Going to Bizarre Lengths to Defend Official Sarah Thomas' Fumble Recovery Call in Browns Game


The Cleveland Browns got screwed by a fumble call, when the ball was already in the possession of Duke Johnson and he stood up, while players fought for something else in a pile. To most rational people who can watch something with their own eyes, that’s what happened.

However, rather than just acknowledge the mistake and move on (something that has happened many times in the past), the NFL is bizarrely digging its heels in on this one.

Here was the statement last night (via Mary Kay Cabot)

This morning, Ian Rapoport, who works for the league with the NFL

We’ll get to the “no evidence” part in a bit. He then claimed (while tweeting a story with a photo showing Johnson already standing and holding the ball while the signal is made) that the call was made before Johnson emerged from the pile. It most certainly was not.

First, here’s another angle showing the fumble, and appearing to show the ball bounce right back into Duke Johnson’s arms. That would also be the only way he could have then immediately stood up with the ball, while players continued to pile up.

Here’s a time sequence of the play. At 9:35 on the game clock, the pile begins to form. Line judge Sarah Thomas can be seen running in from the sideline at this point, and you can see Duke Johnson (with the “9” on his 29 jersey showing below Browns #62). No whistle has blown, and the clock is still running.

He immediately starts to get up, with the ball, and by the 9:33 mark on the clock, two seconds later, is standing fully upright with the ball in his right hand. Thomas is starting to arrive at the pile, and the whistle has not blown yet, and the clock is still running.

At 9:32 of the 4th quarter, Thomas blows the whistle and starts waving her hands, and the clock stops. A Browns lineman can be seen pointing at the ball in Johnson’s hand while everyone is staring at the pile and fighting for something else.

Thus, at the point the whistle blew, we had a clear recovery, I mean as clear as possible. And contrary to what Rapoport said, he has emerged with the ball well before any call was made.

Thomas then signals that the ball belongs to Washington, after the clock has stopped.

Since it was a fumble, Hue Jackson could not challenge the recovery. He can be seen on the broadcast asking the officials to take a look. The game did not stop and Washington took the field and ran a play soon after. Jackson could then be seen talking to Thomas on the sideline, appearing to disagree with whatever version she was claiming, on the fumble recovery.

We won’t know for sure if this is general stubbornness by the NFL to acknowledge that something was called incorrectly, or if it is motivated by the fact that it was Thomas, who is in her 2nd year in the league and is the only female official among the NFL officiating crews.

For most people, that should not matter. She is in the NFL on her merits and should be subject to the same review as all others. Yes, there is a segment of society that will complain about her because she is a woman, but the NFL shouldn’t let fear of a subset drive just acknowledging the call. It’s unfair to her. This would be less of a story if it were acknowledged immediately.

After all, this was part of a crew and there are several eyes on the field to prevent this. Mistakes are made by humans, but the levels of safeguards and review should minimize them. I don’t know what she thought she saw in the pile to award possession to Washington. But others on Jeff Triplette’s crew could have seen Duke Johnson already out of the pile and helped point that out, even after she pointed Washington’s way. We’ve seen calls changed on the field on many occasions. The replay crew also could have corrected the error.

That statement by the NFL doesn’t match the plain facts. We’ve seen plenty of reviews to determine if there was a clear recovery after a whistle blew a play dead for an incorrect incomplete call or down by contact. Here, the video of the game showed a clear recovery even before any whistle was blown.

The NFL has blown it here, and made it a bigger story by their bizarre response.