Dean Blandino, the NFL's senior vice president, acknowledged Tuesday the "bad visual" of a controversial fumble ruling in Week 4' s game between the Cleveland Browns and Washington.
Sarah Thomas awarded possession to Washington long before Browns running back Duke Johnson, Jr. emerged from the pile with the ball.
"We don't have evidence [on replay] that Washington recovered it or Cleveland recovered it, so we have to go with what the official called on the field," Blandino said.
The play occurred with nine minutes, 41 seconds remaining in Washington's eventual 31-20 victory. Screen grabs circulated around the Internet and social media showed Thomas pulling players off the pile -- presumably looking for the ball -- while Johnson stood next to her, holding it high above her head.
According to Blandino, Thomas saw a Washington player recover the ball before Johnson "pulled it away."
"We're not digging at that point [when Johnson had the ball]," Blandino said. "What we're doing is signaling to the players that possession has been established so that they don't continue to fight, and we do that for player safety reasons."
The official box score credited Washington linebacker Will Compton with the recovery. There is no evidence of that on replays of the broadcast, nor was there on any angle reviewed by officials after the play. The NFL replay system requires "clear and obvious" evidence of a mistake to overturn a call.
"There is never an angle that shows Johnson recovering the football on the ground," Blandino said, "and the player coming out of the pile with it is not sufficient evidence, because we all know that the ball can change hands in the pile."