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Deep Looks: Controversial Call Doesn't Happen Without Great Play By Butler, Harmon

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- A fourth-quarter fumble by Austin Seferian-Jenkins, which was ruled a touchdown before being overturned via replay, was obviously going to be the most talked-about play from Sunday's Patriots-Jets game. The officials' decision to overturn the call, naturally, dominated the postgame discussion.

Malcolm Butler and Duron Harmon, unfortunately, have gone mostly unsung in the wake of the play. Because their awareness and competitiveness forced the fumble and made the controversial call possible in the first place.

There are a number of ways you could approach your analysis of the play. The officiating. Seferian-Jenkins' inability to keep the ball secure through The Process™. The rules regarding catches. The rules regarding replay. But as Michael Hurley spotlighted, Butler and Harmon made a huge play to jar the ball loose, if only for a split second that couldn't be seen in real time.

Butler also knew the rules. He knew immediately that he may have forced a touchback just by ripping the ball out of Seferian-Jenkins' grasp and making it float untouched for juuust long enough. Whether you like replay or not, a microscopic moment is all it takes for the officials to rule that the ball carrier lost possession. Butler knows this, and that's why he never gives up on plays and is always clawing at the ball until the play is completely over.

Malcolm Butler, Duron Harmon, Austin Seferian-Jenkins - New England Patriots v New York Jets
Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the New York Jets runs the ball against Duron Harmon and Malcolm Butler during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Seferian-Jenkins originally scored a touchdown, but was later ruled to have fumbled. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

It wasn't easy for Butler or Harmon to even get to Seferian-Jenkins, either. Butler was lined up across Jets wideout Jeremy Kerley at the snap and followed him almost all the way to the middle of the field, then had to work his way back to the sideline after Seferian-Jenkins made the catch. He wouldn't have made the play had he not broken for the ball before it even came out. Harmon recognized the play almost instantly, which allowed him to also get to the tight end and nearly make the tackle. In retrospect, he's lucky he didn't.

Bill Belichick lauded Butler after the game for his instincts on the play.

"[Butler] did a great job getting his hand in," Belichick said. "He has a knack for that. He's done that before. He has good ball awareness and does a good job at slapping at the ball and has good strength. It was a tremendous play. Great, great awareness. It saved us seven points."

Austin Seferian-Jenkins - New England Patriots v New York Jets
Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the New York Jets is shown fumbling the ball after what was originally called a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 15, 2017. The Replay Official ruled that he fumbled as he crossed the goal line. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Butler told reporters that he simply "saw the ball juggle" in the moment. Harmon admitted to WBZ-TV's Levan Reid that he didn't know for sure the play would be ruled a touchback, but described it as "a testament to team defense" and an example of the Patriots' compete level when they swarm the football.

The play was an instant "Exhibit A" for those who would rather sports just get rid of replay altogether than utilize it in the fashion that the officials did in that moment (*raises hand*). It's beyond fair to wonder how the officials could have possibly deemed the play conclusive enough to overturn the call. You could argue that it was technically correct, but not that it was a reasonable use of replay or something you'd like to see more of in NFL games.

Still, it should not go unnoticed that Seferian-Jenkins' momentary juggling of the ball probably doesn't happen without Butler and Harmon's effort on the play. It could have ended up a touchdown anyway, but it's another reason why Butler and the Patriots secondary battle all the way to the end. The Patriots defense had another up-and-down game overall (with more ugly and alarming "downs"), but Butler and Harmon's game-changing play should not be overshadowed.

Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at

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