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Mike Wallace Didn't Score a Touchdown, but Probably Did

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The Dolphins wide receiver was ruled out of bounds, but the call was overturned. Here's why the refs got it wrong, but why the result was probably correct.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Rule 11, Section 2, Article 1: Touchdown

A touchdown is scored when:

SUPPLEMENTAL NOTES (2) If a player attempts to catch a pass, the ball is not dead, and a touchdown is not scored, until the receiver completes the catch. See Rule 3, Section 2, Article 7.

Rule 3, Section 2, Article 7: Player Possession

Item 1: Player in Possession. A player is in possession when he is inbounds and has a firm grip and control of the ball with his hands or arms.

CATCH A catch is made when a player inbounds secures possession of a pass, kick, or fumble in flight (See 8-1-3).

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3: Completed or Intercepted Pass

A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

(a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and

(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and

(c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.).

Note 2: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession. If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.

Item 2: Sideline Catches. If a player goes to the ground out-of-bounds (with or without contact by an opponent) in the process of making a catch at the sideline, he must maintain complete and continuous control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, or the pass is incomplete.

Item 3: End Zone Catches. The requirements for a catch in the end zone are the same as the requirements for a catch in the field of play.

Rule 15, Section 9, Article 3: Reviews by Referee

All Replay Reviews will be conducted by the Referee on a field-level monitor after consultation with the covering official(s), prior to review. A decision will be reversed only when the Referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him that warrants the change.

Wallace Bobble

So the Dolphins deserved to score for how the Patriots handled the end of the first half. However, as the referee initially called the pass incomplete, they need indisputable visual evidence that Wallace clearly caught the ball inbounds and maintained control through the act of rolling out of bounds.

The rules state that possession is when the player's arms or hands have a firm grip on the ball, and the receiver must maintain continuous control of the ball while rolling out of bounds. It's also clear that Wallace's "control" is far from firm as the ball rolls around on his stomach while he's landing out of bounds.

And for the Dolphins fans, it's easy to argue that he had control of the ball as his butt landed inbounds, and that kinda sorta is controlling the ball with one hand while he hits the turf, and then transfers control to the other hand while he's rolling out of bounds. That's extremely fair.

But the ruling of possession doesn't say the receiver can be cradling the ball- they have to have a firm grip on it through the process. Due to the nature of the ref calling the pass incomplete, there isn't enough visual evidence to say that he holds a firm grip on the ball throughout the process, especially as he repositions his hands.  More importantly, there are no angles that shows him with both hands on the ball as he catches it while showing that he was still inbounds.

What needs to be noted is that if Wallace had been inbounds throughout the play, there would have been no question this was a phenomenal touchdown reception. He does a great job of not letting the ball hit the ground. Additionally, if the refs had initially ruled it a completion, there wouldn't have been enough evidence to overturn the call. Maybe if the league had the end zone cameras that Bill Belichick has been asking for, this wouldn't be an issue at all.

In fact, it's entirely probable that Wallace scored a touchdown. There just aren't the necessary angles to overturn what was called on the field; there isn't indisputable evidence to show that he maintained full control of the ball prior to when he was going out of bounds.

The ruling on the field shouldn't have been overturned. But in the end, the refs probably got it right.