Controversial out-of-bounds call that cost Texans a touchdown in loss to Raiders appears to have been a good call

“Monday Night Football” between the Raiders and Texans from Mexico City featured several controversial refereeing decisions, but the biggest came at the very start of the game when refs whistled DeAndre Hopkins out of bounds on what looked to be a clear touchdown run. 

The Raiders went on to win, 27-20, which placed the refs’ decision on Hopkins’ potential score under added scrutiny. Repeatedly over the course of the game, and then after it ended, ESPN’s TV broadcasters returned to Hopkins’ play, suggesting that the Texans had been robbed because replay appeared to show him tiptoeing in-bounds along the left edge of the field. 

A closer look at the replay, however, seems to show that the refs were in fact correct to whistle the play dead. 

First, let’s look at the play in real time: 

The moment that was highlighted to support the argument that Hopkins had stayed in bounds focused on Hopkins putting his hand on the ground while trying to turn up field. Here, courtesy of SB Nation, is that moment: 

It’s clear from that GIF that Hopkins doesn’t step out of bounds at that moment.

But notice just before the GIF cuts off (when Hopkins is parallel to a bald man on the Oakland sideline) that Hopkins’ right foot comes dangerously close to stepping on the chalk. 

Let’s look again: 

If you freeze this, there’s compelling evidence that Hopkins stepped out of bounds, and that the refs therefore made the right call: 

More to the point, though, if this doesn’t conclusively prove that Hopkins stepped out of bounds, it also doesn’t conclusively prove that he didn’t

NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino said this about the play, and how the refs handled it (via Pro Football Talk): 

“Look at the heel. The heel appears to be in the white. It’s not right down the line so it’s not definitive, but we certainly can’t say he was obviously in bounds from this angle. The heel looks like it’s down. It looks like it could be touching the white. It’s not definitive either way. . . . It certainly appears that the foot is out of bounds. . . . There’s no way we can say this foot is clearly in bounds and the ruling on the field is that he was out.”

Blandino also explained that once a play is ruled dead, it can’t be reviewed:

“This is not reviewable,” Blandino said. “If we rule the player out of bounds, we’re killing it, we’re blowing whistles, you can’t give an advance in replay. The theory is the players are stopping because of the dead ball ruling and it would be impossible to tell where the receiver would have ended up if we hadn’t killed the play.”

That rule, of course, is questionable, but the subject of a different debate. Ultimately, until the rule book is changed, we can’t prove definitively that the refs were wrong, and therefore the Texans weren’t robbed.

If Houston fans are really up in arms about their one-score loss to the Raiders, they’d be better off looking at Bill O’Brien’s repeated unwillingness to go for it on 4th down, including a 4th-and-55 from the Houston 44 with one time out left and just three minutes left. O’Brien chose to punt, and his team never got the ball back. 

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