Archive for Tuesday, December 18, 2001

NFL to do thorough review of Browns’ game

December 18, 2001

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From instant replay to beer sales, the NFL will review all aspects of the bottle-throwing melee by Cleveland fans after a replay decision led to the Browns' loss to Jacksonville.

It will not, however, take action against the Browns' owner and president for statements that failed to criticize the fans' actions.

By midday Monday, the NFL had reached two conclusions:

l Correct procedures were followed and the correct decision made when replay overturned what had been ruled a fourth-down catch by Cleveland's Quincy Morgan.

l Referee Terry McAulay was wrong to declare the game over when the deluge of plastic bottles and other objects from the stands forced him to clear the field. Only commissioner Paul Tagliabue or his representative can do that. Tagliabue ordered the last 48 seconds played a half-hour after McAulay declared the game over.

The trouble started on fourth down, when Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch threw to Morgan, who appeared to catch the ball at the 9-yard-line. The Browns quickly lined up and Couch spiked the ball with 48 seconds left, presumably giving Cleveland three plays to score the go-ahead TD.

But McAulay stopped play and said he had been buzzed by the replay official in the press box, who told him the Couch-to-Morgan pass had to be reviewed. It was, and the catch was overturned, with officials ruling Morgan did not have possession.

At issue was whether the spike came before the summons from the replay official, who under NFL rules makes challenges in the last two minutes of each half. Under the rules, if a play is run before the challenge is made, the play stands.

McAulay said the buzzer on his belt went off just prior to the spike, but he didn't have time to stop the play. Mike Pereira, the league supervisor of officials, said the buzzer also alerted umpire Carl Paganelli, who is hooked into the replay system.

"Things were moving very quickly," Pereira said in a statement posted on the NFL's Web sites. "When the pager went off (just before the snap), the referee allowed the play to take place before confirming with the umpire and the replay assistant that he was paged for a review."

Meanwhile, the NFL and the Browns were reviewing everything from stadium security and beer sales to changes in the replay system that would make communication easier.

One change might involve the time allowed to make a challenge. Although a challenge is invalid if the next play has been run, there have been several instances in the three years the new system has been in effect where plays were reviewed after the next play because of confusion in signaling the officials.

NFL officials also said they contemplated no action against Browns owner Al Lerner or president Carmen Policy, both of whom suggested the behavior of the fans stemmed merely from enthusiasm.

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