Jermaine Gresham's not-touchdown ruling reminds me of a game during the 2006 season. With 2:58 remaining in the game, leading the 13-7 in Tampa Bay, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski lines up at the Bengals 32-yard line. Justin Smith explodes off the line of scrimmage and records the quarterback sack forcing the Buccaneers to lose eight yards.
Smith was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
Rather than forcing Tampa Bay into a second and 18 from the Bengals 40-yard line, the Buccaneers were given -- not gifted -- a first down from the Bengals 25-yard line. Five plays later Gradkowski completes an eight-yard touchdown to Michael Clayton to beat the Bengals 14-13.
How big was that play? Cincinnati only needed one win at the end of the year to reach the 2006 NFL playoffs. Though they'd largely choke against the Broncos (misfire on the PAT snap to tie the game) and the Steelers (missed field goal late in regulation and 60-plus yard pass allowed to Santonio Holmes in overtime), this penalty would have dramatically hurt Tampa Bay's chances to score the game-winning touchdown.
We're not emphasizing that the officials cost Cincinnati the game. Mike Pereira, now an analyst for Fox Sports, is a former Vice President of Officiating, holding that position from 2011 until the conclusion of the 2009 season. He will often join games during questionable calls for the Fox broadcast, especially during challenges to review what he's seeing on the replay and interpreting that in regards to the NFL rulebook. Pereira discussed the Jermaine Gresham not-touchdown Sunday night after the game:
Gresham was going to the ground to complete the catch, but he had complete control of the ball in his right hand before the ball hit the ground. I do agree that the ball moves slightly when it hits the ground, but in this case Gresham kept his right hand on the ball the entire time.
The ball will always move, which is why referees are told never to use that terminology. You either maintain possession or you lose possession, which means your hands come off the ball.
In the end, it’s all about judgment. But you need absolutely indisputable evidence to overturn a ruling on the field.
And that's Pereira's point. Not so much what he saw, only that the evidence during the replay wasn't substantial (or conclusive) enough to overturn the call on the field. In the end that decision took four points off the board for the Bengals, denying them the opportunity to convert a field goal to tie the game late in the fourth quarter (rather than going for it on fourth and goal from the Ravens 17-yard line).
It's the Justin Smith sack all over again.