By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Friday that the fumble by St. Louis running back Tre Mason late in last Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks was given back to the Rams because there no clear indication of which team owned possession until the officials deconstructed the pile.
Speaking during his weekly Officiating Review Video for the media, Blandino said the play was clearly a fumble as Mason was not down when the ball was dislodged. However, the question of possession became murky about 20 yards downfield.
"On the field, how the officials determine who recovered the loose ball is they will look to see is there clear possession before (the ball) goes into the pile," said Blandino, who pointed out that while Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman had the ball between his legs, that doesn't constitute possession. "Then it's going to go into the pile and what will happen at that point the officials will start to dig. They will look for a color (of jersey) with the ball.
"Sometimes a player comes out of the pile with the football and we can determine it that way. Or the officials will dig and they will signal -- in this instance -- 'blue' ball. ... At that point, basically whatever happens (in the pile) is over. If the ball switches hands after this, it doesn't matter."
He said because the play happened within the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, only the fumbling player can advance the ball, thus the ball was put back at the spot of the fumble.
Blandino said that on video review of the play there also needs to be a clear video evidence of recovery of the ball to determine possession.
"A player coming out of the pile with the ball would not be clear video evidence," he said. "On the field it would be. In replay you have to see the player actually possess the ball on the ground.
"... In replay, we need to see evidence of a clear recovery. The ball could change hands. We don't know what's happening in that pile."
Blandino said he does wish the game clock had been stopped on the play followed by an announcement of replay review, but he added the call on the field was correct.