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Updated: December 30th, 2012 9:32pm
Ref says he couldn't tell whether challenge flag or buzz came first

Ref says he couldn't tell whether challenge flag or buzz came first

by Tom Pelissero
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Jordy Nelson picked up the challenge flag as quickly as he could, knowing coach Mike McCarthy might have just cost the Green Bay Packers a touchdown.

Referee Mike Carey said he couldn't tell whether McCarthy threw the flag before the replay official buzzed him, though, and decided to review a play that ended up turning a Vikings fumble recovery into seven points for the Packers on Sunday.

"I knew the rule," Nelson said after the Packers' 37-34 loss. "I think there might have been a miscommunication on whether they called him down or a turnover. Once I heard it was a turnover, I knew it was automatically reviewed.

"Everyone saw the Detroit play like that, so luckily, we were able to prevent that."

That play came on Thanksgiving, when officials stopped a replay review and walked off a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because Lions coach Jim Schwartz illegally threw a challenge flag on a scoring play.

On Sunday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed a pass to James Jones on first-and-goal from the Vikings' 8-yard line late in the third quarter. The ball came loose, Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson and officials ruled it a fumble after a brief huddle.

It was about that time McCarthy threw his challenge flag, even though turnovers, like scoring plays, are automatically reviewed and cannot be challenged. But Carey decided to review the play anyway because he felt the buzz from the replay booth came first.

Replays showed Jones stretched the ball to the goal line before his knee touched the ground -- and before the ground jarred loose the ball -- and Carey announced the call had been overturned to a touchdown that cut the Vikings' lead to 27-24.

"We can't tell specifically when those happened," Carey said . "He's at my back, and I got a buzz, and about the same time, (other officials) said that he threw the flag. I can't tell which one happened first.

"The replay (official) said he buzzed right away. In that situation, we're allowed to review the play. He was still penalized 15 yards, but we're allowed to review the play."

Asked at what point the play would become unreviewable, Carey said, "If the flag came well before the buzz. ... It came immediately before it at Detroit. Here I think there was a time delay, and the buzz came before. It's an automatically reviewable play."

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski came into the press box to request an explanation from the replay official himself, while coach Leslie Frazier chased Carey down the sideline.

"They told me that someone had buzzed down and they had to review the play," Frazier said, shrugging and raising his hands when asked about the play during his media conference.

"... Did I believe it? It is what it is. Vikings won. That's all that counts. We're in the playoffs."

McCarthy admitted throwing the flag was an "emotional decision by me. I shouldn't have done it." Schwartz said roughly the same after his mistake on Thanksgiving.

Should the rule be changed immediately?

"I'm sure that Commissioner (Roger) Goodell and the powers that be in New York will handle it accordingly," Frazier aid. "If they call and ask my opinion, I'll give them my opinion, but at this point, my opinion is irrelevant. They will make the decision when they want to make the decision."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
In this story: Leslie Frazier, Erin Henderson