MINNESOTA — The tight end of New England Patriots Hunter Henry’s 6-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was negated by instant replay Thursday night, a decision that left him baffled after a 33-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I believe I caught him,” Henry said in the Patriots locker room late Thursday night. “He said he hit the ground. But I believe my hand was under the ball. The hand was under the ball, so it jumped up hitting the ground.
“They called. I just have to learn 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 Viking Chandon Sullivan’s defensive back. Henry had both hands on the ball as he charged towards the goal line.
Officials initially ruled it a touchdown before reverting the call to an incomplete pass after a protracted review.
A touchdown would have given the Patriots a 30–23 lead midway through the third quarter, assuming a successful point-after effort. Instead, they settled for a 25-yard field goal from Nick Folk. The Vikings went on to score the last 10 points of the game.
Walt Anderson, vice president of the NFL, explained the reversed call in a pool report, saying, “He went down, the ball eventually hit the ground, and then he lost control of the ball in his hands.”
Asked to explain why Henry didn’t gain possession before the ball hit the ground, Anderson said: “Because if he goes to ground, he has to control the ball when it hits the ground. The term often used is ‘ survive’. the ground’…he has the elements of two feet and control, but because he’s going to ground, he has to maintain control of the ball.
As the replay process unfolded, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said he thought it would be considered a catch just short of the goal line or an incomplete pass.
“I think it’s one of those things that could have gone many different ways. I was really happy it went the way it did,” he said.
Henry had two hands on the ball, but Anderson said that alone was not enough.
“If he had controlled the ball with both hands, even if the ball hit the ground, it 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 U.S. Bank Stadium. In the aftermath of Thursday’s game, he planned to “really watch it in the movie room, and just try to be better and totally control the ball, 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 penalty to the kicker in the fourth quarter that turned a punt into an eventual Vikings touchdown.
“We have to get rid of 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 smashed it in and it wouldn’t have been a problem. One phone call cannot determine the outcome. We have to be able to do better, so it’s not even close.”