Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been heavily criticized for failing to fall on his fumble in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50. But maybe the officials deserve some criticism, too.
As noted by Peter King in TheMMQB.com, after Newton fumbled, Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller knocked the ball backward toward the Carolina goal line. It’s illegal for a defensive player to intentionally bat a loose ball toward the other team’s goal line, but Miller admits that’s exactly what he did.
“I thought Cam was going to jump on it, but I guess, I mean, he didn’t want to dive down there on it. I couldn’t fall on it, so I was just trying to, I don’t know, get it to one of our guys,” Miller told King.
If the officials had seen Miller bat the ball, it would have been a penalty on Denver and Carolina would have kept the ball. At that point, they would have been trailing by six with four minutes left, and they still would have had a chance to come behind and win. Instead, Broncos safety T.J. Ward recovered the ball after Miller batted it inside the 10-yard line.
The illegal bat rule was already the subject of one officiating controversy during the 2015 season, when the Seahawks committed what should have been an illegal bat penalty in the final minute of their win over the Lions. But it’s an infraction that often goes overlooked, and one that NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino has said may be added to the list of plays that can be reviewed in instant replay. Perhaps if replay had been available on that play, the Panthers would have kept the ball, and no one would be criticizing Newton’s lack of effort on the fumble recovery.