Did replay officials mishandle DeVonta Smith’s controversial catch? What should have happened
- ESPN.com national NFL writer
- ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
- Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
The Super Bowl LVII pairing is on the line during the NFL’s Championship Sunday.
With two matchups of elite teams, every play could decide which team advances. Everything counts — every call, every non-call, every decision, every replay and every yard.
To that end, let’s review the major decisions — and non-decisions — made by referee John Hussey (NFC) and Ron Torbert (AFC). We’ll take a look at the circumstances, the rules involved and provide some analysis as well.
Should replay officials have reviewed DeVonta Smith’s catch on fourth-and-3?
49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game, 10:28 remaining in the first quarter
What happened: Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith was credited with a leaping 29-yard catch along the left sideline on fourth-and-3 to the 49ers’ 6-yard line, extending their opening possession of the game. Smith jumped up from the ground, apparently signaling the Eagles to hurry to the line of scrimmage for the next play.
How it was resolved: The Eagles were ready to run the next play quickly and got the snap off 28 seconds after the previous snap. That made the play irreversible even if replays later showed evidence of a drop.
Analysis: Fox showed a replay several minutes later that clearly showed the ball hitting the ground before Smith had fully secured it via the NFL’s catch rule. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan never challenged it, likely because his coaches and advisors in the booth didn’t see the definitive replay in time. But there was another way the call could have been rectified.
The NFL instituted a new rule at the start of the 2021 season, alternately known as the “replay assist” or “expedited review” rule, that allows either on-site replay official or a member of the league office in New York City to make a quick reversal when there is immediate, clear and obvious evidence that one is necessary. To make the process efficient, the NFL imported Hawk-eye replay equipment that pulls in all replays instantaneously rather than waiting for the broadcast network to put them on air.
The process has been met with rave reviews and has carved nearly 4 minutes from the average game time. But for reasons that were not immediately clear, it was not employed in this case.
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