The Ravens thought they had the game-changing play they desperately needed.
With Baltimore trailing Los Angeles, 12-3, early in the fourth quarter, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon lost control of the football as he dove for the end zone. Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey scooped up the loose ball and returned it for what he thought was a 105-yard touchdown to bring the Ravens within one score.
Instead, the officials ruled that Gordon scored before losing possession of the football. The play was reviewed, and even though it looked like the ball may have slipped loose before Gordon went to the ground, the officials ruled Gordon down by contact at the 1-yard line.
The Chargers scored on the next play, putting them up, 20-3, to break the game open.
After the game, NFL Vice President of Officiating Al Riveron explained the ruling in a pool report interview.
“There were a couple of things that we looked at there,” Riveron said. “Number one, we have to make sure that the runner was not touched by a defender. Once we established that, we saw that the defender touches him in the backfield. Now, he’s down by contact, if he’s down. Now we have to see where he’s down, if he’s down short of the goal line before the ball comes loose, therefore the ball is dead.
“He was touched by a defender, he went down, then the ball comes loose. The ball coming loose has no bearing whatsoever because he was down by contact. The ball is dead once your elbow hits the ground short of the goal line.”
The replay showed that Gordon started to mishandle the football as he extended his arm to the goal line, but the NFL determined that the drop occurred only after his elbow hit the ground.
“He had control of the football as he hit the ground,” Riveron said.
Even if the officials had ruled that Gordon lost the ball before hitting the ground, the Humphrey touchdown would not have counted because the officials blew the play dead on the field.
The Ravens instead would have taken over possession at their own 20-yard line. It was a very similar situation to the previous week when quarterback Lamar Jackson fumbled short of the goal line and Cleveland recovered, but the officials had already blown the play dead.
The play was a decisive moment in Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the Chargers, but the Ravens weren’t griping about the call after the game.
“It was the right call,” Humphrey said.
Veteran safety Eric Weddle, who tripped Gordon in the backfield, also said the referees got it correct.
“He was down,” Weddle said. “If you thought [the ball] was out, it was not.”