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Deconstructing Cleveland’s overturned first down

How the NFL overturned Cleveland’s nearly game clinching first down

Cleveland Browns v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At the center of Cleveland’s controversial and heart wrenching loss to the Oakland Raiders was a short run by Carlos Hyde with 1:32 remaining, which resulted in a first down called by the on-field officiating crew. With under two minutes left in the game, the replay official called for another look at the spot of the ball on the short run.

Make no mistake, this was a critical moment for the life of the game. The Browns were up by 8 points, and Oakland was about to use their final timeout. A first down would allow the Browns to take a knee three times until the clock expired, clinching their second victory of the season. Should the ball be spotted short of the required distance, the Browns would be faced with a 4th and short situation, potentially giving the Raiders an opportunity to tie the game before the end of regulation.

As was stated initially, the call on the field was that the ball had enough distance to make the first down. Upon review, the ball was found short despite poor camera angles and Hyde seeming to fall over the “yellow” line on the television feed.

With emotions subsiding after such a dramatic loss, it’s valuable to come back and reexamine this play with some additional mental clarity. After the game, Scott Petrak reported that:

One replay angle shows the wrist and the elbow hit the ground simultaneously. Then when you go back to the line feed, you see the wrist hit the ground and you know the elbow is down. At that point, you are able to clearly see that the ball is short of the line to gain.

After reexamining the television feed, it seems that the officiating crew was examining an angle that was not being broadcast live. However, after looking at the broadcast angles in detail, I was able to come to the same conclusion as the NFL in that Hyde was down just short of the first down.

This seems apparent using two camera angles. The first shot shows the moment where Hyde is down and where his elbow is in comparison to the line to gain - the imaginary line through the field denoting the minimum distance for a first down.

Carlos Hyde, at the moment of being downed
Fox News NFL Broadcast

From this image, it is possible to see where his elbow touched in relation to the first down. The tip of his elbow may just be touching the first down marker. However, it is difficult from this perspective to understand where the ball is in relation to the ground.

In a close up from a different angle, it is possible to see how Hyde is holding the ball in relationship to his body:

Carlos Hyde at point of impact - vertical line drawn to look at ball placement to elbow

This angle is important as it allows a point of reference for where the ball is in relationship to the downed elbow. From this image, it appears as if the ball, at it’s furthest point, is vertically aligned with a point just shy of the knob of his elbow. From the first angle, it appears that only that knob of the elbow was just far enough to kiss the front end of the line to gain. Thus, at the point of being downed, it appears to me that the ball is most definitely short, even though by a minute amount, of the line to gain for the first down.


After calming down, and looking at the evidence above, do you believe that Hyde should have been awarded with a first down?

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