Reviewable and non-reviewable plays: How it works in the NFL


There are plenty of confusing rules in the NFL when it comes to the replay system. Let's try to make them a tad more clear.

When trying to determine what plays can be reviewed and which can't, you sometimes feel like an 1,000-page manual is needed.

However, we'll try to break it down swiftly here because, let's face it, you probably don't have time for that manual. Below are some plays that would be reviewable:

  • Any scoring play. They automatically get looking at upstairs by the replay official.
  • Any turnover. These also are automatically looked at.
  • Receptions. This covers a wide variety of things, including whether a player caught the ball cleanly, if his feet were in bounds and if he had possession.
  • Spot of ball. If a coach wants to challenge to see if his team made a first down or simply thinks he got robbed on a bad spot, he can throw the red flag.
  • Any reviewable play which takes place in the final two minutes can't be challenged. It must be initiated by the replay official.
  • If a kick goes over or under the crossbar, or if it goes wide of an upright provided the ball is below the top of said upright.
  • If a player fumbled prior to being down by contact.

An example of a play that happened this year falling under some of the above categories would be the San Diego Chargers losing to the Washington Redskins. Danny Woodhead appeared to score the game-winning touchdown only to have the spot of the ball moved back to the 1-yard line. San Diego ultimately kicked a field goal and lost in overtime.

Now, here are some plays in a game that are non-reviewable:

  • Penalties. Under no circumstance can a penalty call be reviewed.
  • Forward progress. It's a judgement call on the field by the officials.
  • A fumble after the whistle has blown. At that point, the play is considered dead and can't be reviewed.
  • Any kick going above the uprights
  • Inadvertent whistles
  • Recovery of a fumble in the field of play

A perfect example of one of these happened in the NFC Championship Game. NaVorro Bowman of the San Francisco 49ers clearly recovered a fumble against the Seattle Seahawks, but the ruling on the field was that Seattle had recovered the ball.

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