NFL playoffs 2019: Why did this Bears fumble vs Eagles stay incomplete?

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The Chicago Bears kicked a field goal before halftime to take a 6-3 lead against the Philadelphia Eagles. But it came after a confusing play and replay review that baffled NBC’s rules expert Terry McAulay.

Let’s break it all down:

What happened on the play?

With a chance to get points on the board before halftime, Mitchell Trubisky found receiver Anthony Miller down the seam for what looked like a 30-yard gain. But just before the receiver went to the ground, the ball was ripped out by Eagles defensive back Cre’Von LeBlanc.

But a replay review showed that Miller controlled the ball, and took three steps — fulfilling the requirement for a catch — before it was pulled free. Therefore, it should’ve been ruled a fumble instead of an incomplete pass.

It shouldn’t have been reviewed in the first place

The first problem with the entire sequence is that it was a play that shouldn’t have been deemed reviewable, because there was no clear recovery by either team.

In the NFL rulebook, it says a replay review can determine that an incomplete pass should’ve been ruled a fumble. But “if there is no video evidence of a clear recovery or the ball going out of bounds, the ruling of incomplete stands.”

After the play was ruled incomplete, players from both teams walked back to the line of scrimmage and an official picked up the ball:

That it was recovered by an official entertained NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, but it really didn’t matter. A clear recovery has to be immediate, so it’s not as though the official could’ve stood and waited for a team to wander over and claim possession of the ball.

No, the officials weren’t making things up as they went along

The officials shouldn’t have ruled the pass incomplete, and shouldn’t have reviewed the play. But the final determination that no clear recovery meant that it must remain an incomplete pass was the right call.

Former NFL referee and NBC rules expert Terry McAulay suggested on the broadcast that the officials didn’t really know what to do and just took a guess:

Terry McAulay: “If they’re going by ‘you have to finish it with a recovery and you can’t change it,’ I guess that’s the rule. But it doesn’t seem — you’ve taken away a catch. Somebody could have recovered it.”

Al Michaels: “They’re not making this up on the fly, are they?”

Terry McAulay: “It does seem that way.” [laughing]

The end result was a field goal for the Bears and that’s probably a just ending after the confusing call. But ultimately, neither team got screwed. The officials didn’t do anything worse than call an extremely close play an incomplete pass.

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