Former head of NFL officiating doesn’t think Kirk Cousins’s fumble was a fumble

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Dean Blandino would have reversed the call on the field and given the ball back to Washington.

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After the ball came out. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

At first glance, Kirk Cousins’s late-game fumble Sunday afternoon — which was returned for a game-clinching Eagles touchdown — sure looked like an incomplete pass rather than a fumble. Slow motion replays made it more confusing, at least to me, although I still would have guessed it would be ruled an incomplete pass, since Cousins’s arm appeared to me to be going forward before the ball came out.

That’s not how it worked out. Referee Brad Allen ruled on the field that it was a fumble and an Eagles touchdown, and when he went to replay, the decision was upheld by the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, Alberto Riveron, as part of the league’s centralized replay process.

Allen said after the game that he saw “lack of control in the hand” as Cousins moved his arm forward, and that “there was nothing conclusive that would overturn the ruling on the field” during the replay process.

But here’s a weird twist. Dean Blandino is the man Riveron replaced as the league’s head of officiating. Blandino would have been inside the league’s replay command center in past seasons. And Blandino — who now works as an analyst for Fox — saw the play differently. So did Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira, another former VP of officiating.

“As we looked at it, Dean, it really looked like the hand was clearly going forward with control of the ball,” Pereira said Sunday.

“Yeah, there was one angle where it looked like it may have been a fumble,” Blandino agreed. “But the shot from behind, the end zone look, the hand was coming forward and it looked like a forward pass. It’s a close call, but we both felt it was a forward pass.”

“And again, it was a clear throwing motion,” Pereira said.

After they watched the play some more, the pair revisited the ruling Monday. And their opinion hadn’t changed: They said it should have been an incomplete pass, and Washington’s ball.

“We all thought that Kirk Cousins’s hand had started forward with the ball and that it was an incomplete pass,” Pereira said. “Brad Allen, the referee on the field, ruled it as a fumble. Then New York basically stayed with the call of a fumble.

“You were New York last year, so it was you that would have had to make this decision,” he said to Blandino. “And we got a bunch of different angles. When you look at it, what do you think?

“Yeah, I was in that position, so it really brought back memories,” Blandino said. “You’re sitting there and you’ve got a big play in the game. And the key is the rule, right? The hand has to come forward with control. Once it comes forward with control, it’s a forward pass. And in looking at it, to me, from the end zone shot behind the play, the hand was coming forward with control. And if it were me on the headset with Brad Allen, I would have said ‘We’ve got to go forward pass on this and give the ball back to Washington.’

“They’re close plays, that’s why they go to review, and there’s going to be judgment involved,” Blandino said. “But that was one, to me, that was clear cut. I thought it was a forward pass. … Nothing in this world is indisputable. Nothing. And that’s why that language, look, it’s clear and obvious right? It should jump out, it should be clear and obvious, not ‘I think’ or ‘maybe.’ That’s the standard. And I thought the standard was met in that situation.”

If the two men who had the most important officiating job in the NFL cannot agree on whether a replay is clear and obvious, it probably isn’t clear and obvious, which is the inherent problem with all of this: It’s never completely objective. Still, had Blandino been in charge, Washington evidently would have had one last chance to win the game.

More Redskins:

Jay Gruden says Josh Doctson must ‘earn’ more playing time

Steinberg: The Kirk Cousins contract fatigue is real

Boswell: One game shows us Redskins’ bar of expectation needs to be lowered

Steinberg: For bad season openers, there’s the Redskins and Browns, and then everyone else

Referee Brad Allen explains ruling on game-ending fumble TD

Best and worst moments from the Redskins’ season-opening loss

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