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In an amazing comeback Seahawks got a TD less than a minute on the clock. The running back Marshawn Lynch seemed to fumble the ball, which was then picked up by the center and carried in the end zone. I realize that the score was reviewed, but not sure on what grounds...

What was the final decision in that case and which rules govern that situation?

Edit: Perhaps the question wasn't clear enough. What I am asking is:

  • Why the TD was reviewed? What would have changed if the ball was fumbled and recovered?
  • What exactly constitutes a TD when the running takes a dive in to the endzone? Does the ball have to touch the turf in the end zone?
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up vote 10 down vote accepted

What exactly constitutes a TD when the running takes a dive in to the endzone? Does the ball have to touch the turf in the end zone?

The ruling on the field was that Lynch broke the plane of the endzone per Rule 11, Section 2, Article 1a of the NFL rulebook:

A touchdown is scored when: the ball is on, above, or behind the plane of the opponents’ goal line and is in possession of a runner who has advanced from the field of play;

Lynch scored the TD because the officials ruled that the ball was on the Falcons' goal line before he fumbled. Additionally, the rulebook notes

The ball is automatically dead when it is in legal possession of a player and is on, above, or behind the opponent’s goal line.

The rulebook also sites this case specifically as an example:

Third-and-goal on B2. Runner A1 goes to the goal line with the ball over the plane of the goal line. He is tackled, fumbles, and the defensive team recovers in the end zone. Ruling: Touchdown. The ball is automatically dead at the instant of legal player possession on the opponent’s goal line.

Because the ball was dead immediately when Lynch scored the TD by breaking the plane of the endzone, the fumble could not happen. The play was over the instant he scored.

Why was the TD reviewed?

As for why the play was reviewed, all scoring plays and fumbles in the last two minutes of each half are always reviewed, outlined in Rule 15, Section 9 of the rule book:

After all scoring plays, interceptions, fumbles... after the two-minute warning each half, and throughout any overtime period, any Replay Review will be initiated by a Replay Official from a Replay Booth comparable to the location of the coaches' booth or Press Box.

Whether it was initially ruled a TD or a fumble, it was an automatic review by the Replay Assistant in the booth.

What would have changed if the ball was fumbled and recovered?

Rule 8, Section 7, Article 6 of the rulebook states

If a fumble by either team occurs after the two-minute warning: (b) The player who fumbled is the only player of his team who is permitted to recover and advance the ball. (c) If the recovery or catch is by a teammate of the player who fumbled, the ball is dead, and the spot of the next snap is the spot of the fumble, or the spot of the recovery if the spot of the recovery is behind the spot of the fumble.

If it had been ruled a fumble, the Seahawks would have had possession of the ball at the 1 yard line, where the center recovered the ball. In this case, either Lynch broke the plane of the endzone and scored, or he fumbled and it was recovered by his teammate, giving them the ball at the 1 yard line and another chance to score.

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Great answer, thanks! – posdef Jan 14 '13 at 13:55

Ruling was the Lynch scored before he fumbled.

If it were a fumble, the ball would have been dead where picked up by the offensive lineman - a fumble can only be advanced by someone other than the fumbler after the 2 min warning.

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Ahh, very nice. Where in the NFL rules is this covered? – ᴍᴀsᴛᴇʀᴍɪɴᴅ_ᴇᴅ Jan 14 '13 at 1:09
@jayraynet couple of questions; i) the ball isn't put in the end zone, in fact it's not even sure if the ball was in the end zone at all. So what does the rulebook say for that situation, in other words, what needs to happen for a ball carrier to successfully score a TD? ii) I am not sure I follow your second paragraph; if the ball is fumbled and it can surely be picked up by a team-mate, right? – posdef Jan 14 '13 at 7:15

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