MINNESOTA — New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry’s 6-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was overturned by instant replay Thursday night, a decision that left him perplexed following a 33-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at US Bank Stadium.
“I believe I caught it,” Henry said late Thursday night in the Patriots’ locker room. “He said it hit the ground. But I believe my hand was under the ball. The hand was under the ball, with hitting the ground, that’s what kind of caused it to jump up.
“They made the call. Just got to live with it.”
On the third-and-goal play from the 6-yard line, quarterback Mac Jones fired a pass near the goal line to Henry, who was covered by Vikings defensive back Chandon Sullivan. Henry had both hands on the ball as he lunged towards the goal line.
Officials initially ruled it a touchdown, before overturning the call to an incomplete pass following a lengthy review.
A touchdown would have given the Patriots a 30-23 lead midway through the third quarter, assuming a successful point-after attempt. Instead, they settled for a 25-yard field goal by Nick Folk. The Vikings then scored the game’s final 10 points.
NFL vice president of officiating Walt Anderson explained the overturned call in a pool report, saying: “He was going to the ground, the ball ended up touching the ground, and then he lost control of the ball in his hands.”
Asked to explain why Henry wasn’t granted possession before the ball hit the ground, Anderson said: “Because as he’s going to the ground, he has to maintain control of the ball upon contacting the ground. The term that’s commonly used is ‘surviving the ground’ … he has the elements of two feet and control, but because he’s going to the ground, he has to maintain control of the ball.”
As the replay process was unfolding, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said he thought it would either be ruled a catch just short of the goal line or an incomplete pass.
“I think it’s one of those things that could have gone a lot of different ways. I was very happy that it went the way it did,” he said.
Henry had two hands on the ball, but Anderson said that alone wasn’t enough.
“If he had maintained control of the ball with two hands, even if the ball were to touch the ground, that would still be a catch,” he said.
Henry, in his seventh NFL season, had only seen the replay while watching it on the scoreboard at US Bank Stadium. In the aftermath of Thursday’s game, he planned to “really look at it in the film room, and just try to be better and control the ball all the way through so there’s not even a question.”
The Patriots still had chances after the ruling, but were doomed by self-inflicted wounds, such as a running-into-the-kicker penalty in the fourth quarter that turned a punt into an eventual Vikings touchdown.
“We have to move on from that [overturned] play and play the rest of the game. There was plenty of time left,” Jones said. “There were other times we could have punched it in and that wouldn’t have been an issue. One call cannot determine the outcome. We have to be able to do better, so it’s not even close.”