How that Keenan Cole touchdown review might have gone differently
By Chad Finn, The Boston Globe
Add one more indignity to add to the long list that the Patriots accumulated during their 30-24 loss to the Raiders Sunday afternoon.
Had New England been playing in a higher-profile broadcast window — remember, the game was flexed off of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” to Fox in exchange for a Giants-Commanders matchup — there would have been better camera angles to confirm one way or the other whether Raiders receiver Keelan Cole got both feet inbounds on his tying touchdown catch.
Cole made the catch, a 30-yarder, along the left edge of the end zone with 32 seconds left. Officials ruled it a touchdown on the field even though a couple of different replays indicated his left foot may have first touched down out of bounds, which would have negated the catch and the score.
But Fox did not have a no-doubt-about-it definitive angle — the best look was from overhead and slightly behind Cole and Patriots cornerback Marcus Jones, but it still was not clear. During the delay, Fox put its rules analyst, Dean Blandino, on the air to get his opinion.
“Well, this is really close,” said Blandino, the league’s former vice president of officiating. “The whole thing is the left foot, and is any part of that left foot touching the sideline? The best look we have is that overhead end zone shot. This is the best look. He has control, he’s going to get the right foot in bounds. It looks like the left toe is out of bounds in this shot. It has to be clear and obvious to overturn. If I’m looking at this, I see it out of bounds, but we’ll see what New York does in this situation.”
After a long review and communication with current VP of officiating Walt Anderson and the NFL’s command center in New York, referee Ron Torbert announced that the call stood.
After the game, Anderson explained to pool reporter Mike Reiss of ESPN that there was no conclusive video that showed beyond a doubt that Cole was out of bounds.
“We looked at every available angle and it was not clear and obvious that the foot was on the white,” said Anderson, per Reiss. “It was very tight, very close. There was no shot that we could see — we even enhanced and blew up the views that we had. There was nothing that was clear and obvious that his foot was touching the white.”
Anderson also acknowledged that there was no “down the sideline” angle available, which might have yielded a definitive image.
“Probably the best view was what we term a ‘high end zone’ view,” said Anderson. “TV gave us the most enhanced view that they had as well. We blew it up and I believe TV blew it up and there was nothing that was clear and obvious either way. Had the ruling on the field been incomplete, we would not have been able to change that either.”
One critical reason why Fox did not have the necessary angle is because not all NFL game broadcasts have uniform resources. This was not a particularly high-profile game, as evidenced in part by the network’s decision to have its No. 4 broadcast team, play-by-play voice Kenny Albert and analyst Jonathan Vilma, on the call.
It remains unclear how many cameras and potential replay angles Fox had at its disposal during the game. But it was nowhere near the number a higher-profile prime-time NFL broadcast — which this game was originally supposed to be — would have.
For instance, ESPN, which airs “Monday Night Football,” used 41 cameras for its wild-card playoff matchup between the Rams and Cardinals last year, including 10 PylonCams. NBC, home of “Sunday Night Football,” featured 60 different cameras for its Thursday night season opener between the Rams and Bills, including cameras in each end zone, and 12 to 14 PylonCams that they have been utilizing for each broadcast this season.
Sources at NBC and ESPN confirmed that their respective networks would have had the resources available on the broadcasts to tell with certainty whether Cole was inbounds or not.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a longtime advocate of the NFL adding uniform cameras in all stadiums along boundary lines, which would aid in instant replay and end the class disparity among network broadcasts.
During the 2014 NFL meetings, the Patriots proposed fixed cameras should be added to the sideline, end line, and end zone. The proposal was not adopted, reportedly due to the league’s concerns about costs.
“We just spent however many millions of dollars on the replay system,” said Belichick at the time. “I mean, there are 1,000 cameras in every stadium, so if somebody spills a beer on somebody, we have it on record, right? Maybe we could have a bake sale to raise some money for the cameras. We could do a car wash.”
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