NFL explains call on Myles Jack’s fumble recovery versus Patriots

Did the referees take a fumble return touchdown away from Myles Jack in the fourth quarter of Sunday's AFC Championship Game? That's a question that will be mulled over and debated for some time, especially in Jacksonville.

The Patriots trailed the Jags 20-10 with just less than 14 minutes remaining in the final period when Tom Brady fired a backward pass to Danny Amendola near the right numbers on first down. Amendola took four steps forward before hurling another backward pass across the field to running back Dion Lewis, who, with offensive lineman in front of him, burst ahead for a 20-yard gain.

Jack, the Jags linebacker, eventually chased down Lewis, and while tackling him, miraculously stripped the ball away and gained possession for a fumble without letting the ball hit the turf. Jack immediately stood up and started sprinting the other way, indicating he didn't believe he was touched. However, the referees whistled the play dead and ruled Jack down by contact. Jack slammed the ball down in frustration and disagreement.

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AFC Championship game: Patriots vs. Jaguars
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AFC Championship game: Patriots vs. Jaguars
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds the football before the game. The New England Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars in an NFL AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Leonard Fournette #27 of the Jacksonville Jaguars walks onto the field before the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots hands the ball offsides to Dion Lewis #33 in the first quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Brandin Cooks #14 of the New England Patriots is defended by Jalen Ramsey #20 and Telvin Smith #50 of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter during the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) breaks up a pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee (11) during the first quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Marcedes Lewis #89 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates after a touchdown in the first quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots is hit by Barry Church #42 of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second quarter during the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots walks off the field after an injury in the second quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: James White #28 of the New England Patriots carries the ball for a touchdown in the second quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) drops back to pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Jacksonville Jaguars' Carey Grant stretches out while making a gain during the second quarter. The New England Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars in an NFL AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on Jan. 21, 2018.
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Marcell Dareus #99 of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second half during the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: New England Patriots' Brandin Cooks can't come up with the catch defended by Jaguars' Jalen Ramsey, left, and A.J. Bouye during the third quarter. The New England Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars in an NFL AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA, on Jan. 21, 2018. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Danny Amendola #80 of the New England Patriots throws the ball during the second half of the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown with Danny Amendola #80 in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Brandon Bolden #38 of the New England Patriots reacts in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) catches a touchdown pass ahead of Jacksonville Jaguars free safety Tashaun Gipson (39) during the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) after a touchdown by wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
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The play was then reviewed, but by rule, there was no possibility of the ball being advanced on the fumble return, an NFL spokesman told the Daily News in an email. Once the referees blow the whistle, the play is dead, and that doesn't change, even if replay indicates otherwise.

The replay does appear to show that Jack wasn't touched by Lewis - or any other Patriot - after gaining full possession of the fumble. But the referees were not looking for that. They were only looking at whether the fumble occurred before Lewis was down by contact, and the replay confirmed that fact.

"It was a judgment call," NFL VP of Football Communications Michael Signora said in the email. "The ruling on the field was a fumble, recovered by the defense. Because a whistle was blown, there could be no advance of the fumble, and that ended the play. Replay was used to determine if in fact it was a fumble and/or if the player (Lewis) was down by contact, but no advance of the fumble could be added at this point."

If the referees hadn't blown their whistles, Jack could have returned the fumble for a touchdown, making it a 27-10 game with around 13:30 left in regulation. Instead, the Jaguars offense went three-and-out after the fumble and punted back to the Patriots, who scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to cut the Jags' lead to three points.

The referees did their jobs correctly, according to the NFL rulebook. But as we all know, the NFL rulebook does not always mandate the most logical approach.

Referees, in theory, should always avoid blowing a play dead unless they are 100% sure the player was down by contact. That way, the proper call can always be enacted after a replay review.

The Jaguars, it seems, were gypped on this one.

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