BALTIMORE — The Bengals got some impartial support on the decisive play of Sunday's 31-24 loss to the Ravens.
Mike Pereira of FoxSports.com, the NFL's former head of officiating, wrote Sunday that he didn't think there was enough indisputable evidence to overturn tight end Jermaine Gresham's nine-yard touchdown catch with 5:38 left that would have made it 31-28.
That meant the Bengals would have needed just a field goal to tie it with 33 seconds left on fourth down from the Ravens 17 instead of a touchdown.
Gresham, head coach Marvin Lewis, and most everybody in the Bengals locker room thought he scored on a juggling catch because he had broken the plane of the left pylon on the goal line with the ball in his possession. But referee Ron Winter said breaking the plane doesn't matter because he went to the ground to make the catch.
"When he's going to the ground, he has to maintain control of the ball throughout the process of the catch," Winter said. "So, when he goes to the ground, he can't have the ball touch the ground and have him lose control.
"When the receiver went to the ground, he had the ball in his right hand, the ball touched the ground, and his hand came off the ball by about (an inch) and he then re-grasped it and brought it in."
But Pereira disagreed.
"Gresham was going to the ground to complete the catch, but he had complete control of the ball in his right hand before the ball hit the ground," Pereira wrote. "I do agree that the ball moves slightly when it hits the ground, but in this case Gresham kept his right hand on the ball the entire time. The ball will always move, which is why referees are told never to use that terminology. You either maintain possession or you lose possession, which means your hands come off the ball.
In the end, it's all about judgment. But you need absolutely indisputable evidence to overturn a ruling on the field."
Gresham certainly thought he had the ball long enough when he thought back to what he's seen players do to reach the pylon.
"I thought I caught the ball outside, going in, I see runners all the time going in, drop the ball, so I thought that would be the call. But I've got to catch it the first time," Gresham said. "It didn't feel like it at the time, but I guess in the replay, I lost possession of it. I caught it clean, I know I caught the ball clean, possessed it when I went in, I crossed the plane."
TOUGH D-DAY: The first game of life without cornerback Leon Hall didn't go well for the Bengals. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw for 279 yards in two games against the Bengals last year, pumped in 270 Sunday on touchdown passes of 38 and 35 yards, as well as a 49-yard bomb to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith that set up another one.
It was the first time the Bengals had allowed two TD passes of at least 30 yards in the same game since the Ravens did it to them on Nov. 30, 2008, when the culprits back in the day were Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton. But Flacco only threw one of those and Clayton threw the other.
Smith had the third-greatest day in Ravens history with six catches for 165 yards, but the Ravens were known to go deep on Hall and Johnathan Joseph before Sunday. Last year at PBS in the game the Bengals won, Mason ran past Joseph for a 31-yard TD and in the '08 game Clayton zipped by Hall on a 70-yarder.
"He had a big game; coming into the game, we knew he was a guy who could stretch the field," said cornerback Nate Clements, who got beat on the 49-yarder down the right sideline. "We just have to make plays and take away his strength and make him go elsewhere, and we didn't do that today, and he made us pay for that."
Cornerback Adam Jones played for the first time from scrimmage since he suffered a herniated neck disc 13 months ago. He got the start in place of Hall and held up pretty well deep and even chased down running back Ray Rice to prevent a TD on the Baltimore running back's 59-yarder. But the groin that Jones pulled last week in practice and shelved him for the Pittsburgh game still seemed to bother him.
"I'm sore. I'm not 100 percent," he said. "If I played this week, I can play next week."
Smith scored on the 38-yarder when he knifed through a zone and Flacco hit him over the top between safeties Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson.
"Good throw, good route," Crocker said. "He just went between me and Reggie. It was a good play by them. It was a really good throw."
Smith now has 590 yards, only 45 behind NFL rookie leader A.J. Green, the Bengals rookie receiver sidelined with a hyperextended knee. The man who took Smith in the second round, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, has also been talking to him as well as his coaches.
"I think they definitely prepared themselves by the way their DBs were backing up," Smith said of his speed. "I was just able, when they squat, to try and stack them, try to use great technique. They have a great group of corners. We knew coming in, it was going to be a great challenge for us, and we had to take advantage of our opportunities when we get those shots. We get those shots a lot, which is kind of surprising.
"My receivers coach, Coach (Jim) Hostler, is always like, 'You don't understand how rare it is to get behind someone.' So when it happens, you have to take advantage of it. I was focusing this week on my eyes, just focusing on the ball, looking it all the way in. Mr. Newsome is always talking to me about that, my receivers coach as well. It paid off, just running, trusting Joe's arm, knowing he's going to put it there."
HAIR-RAISING PLAY: With NFL vice president Ray Anderson in the yard, it didn't look like the dean of discipline saw anything finable. Jones did have to point out to the refs that he used Smith's flowing hair to tackle him from behind and save a touchdown. Smith caught a slant running toward the middle of the field and was gone until Jones dragged him down by his hair. Jones made the ref pick up the flag because he thought it was a horse-collar tackle.
"I told (the officials) I got him by the hair. I can do that," Jones said.
Indeed, if the hair is out of helmet it is legal use it to tackle.
"It didn't hurt at all. I was surprised by it. I thought that … I was looking at the other guys," Smith said. "I guess their running back (Bernard Scott), he lost a few dreads on the field, and I knew it wasn't my dreads. It was actually a few drives before, we were in the huddle. We were actually standing by it, and they were like, 'Torrey, did you lose a few dreads?' No, I didn't lose anything. So, to have it happen, he grabbed a whole lot of it, so it actually felt like I was getting pulled down by my jersey."