Facing fourth and 10 from his own 37 with 50 seconds left in Saturday’s Super Wild Card opener, Colts quarterback Philip Rivers found receiver Zach Pascal for a first down. When Pascal, who went to the ground to make the catch, got up and tried to run, things got interesting.
What happened next sparked four different mistakes by the NFL’s officiating function.
First, when Pascal got up (untouched) and tried to advance the ball, he fumbled it. Buffalo recovered, putting it two kneel-downs away from victory, since the Colts had no timeouts. The officials missed that Pascal had gotten up before he fumbled, ruling Pascal down by contact.
Second, the NFL’s in-house review function failed to realize that the play needed to be reviewed, forcing the Bills to take a timeout and hoping that executive V.P. of officiating Al Riveron would realize that the play should be reviewed and should be overturned.
Third, the ruling on the field should have been overturned, but it wasn’t overturned. How was it not overturned? It’s clear and obvious that Pascal wasn’t touched before he got up, it’s clear and obvious that the ball was out before he was tackled again, and it’s clear and obvious that the Bills recovered the fumble.
Fourth, the final explanation from referee Brad Allen — that the Bills won’t be charged a timeout because the replay review was activated by the league office — is simply incorrect. The league office buzzes and speaks to Allen. Allen would have known if he’d been contacted by the league before the Bills called a timeout.
The first three mistakes hurt the Bills. The fourth one helped them, allowing them to call a timeout later when they didn’t like the look they were getting from the Colts on second and 11 with 14 seconds left.
The NFL’s officiating department already has chimed in with an explanation that conveys the magic words but provides no real explanation: “[T]he ruling on the field is that the runner was down by contact. The was no clear and obvious visual evidence to overturn the ruling, so it stands.”
With all due respect, that’s incorrect. And if the Colts had managed to win the game, the league office would be dealing with the wrath of Buffalo fans for weeks if not months if not years to come.