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Maybe next year, the NFL Competition Committee will decide to allow referees to watch the network telecast if NFL replay equipment fails. Maybe they’ll decide that if a referee mistakenly whistles a play dead and then determines that the subsequent action resulted in a change of possession, they have the discretion to decide who should be awarded the ball.
Maybe next year.
The Chargers found themselves in both of those circumstances on Sunday, leading to a 39-38 loss to the Denver Broncos. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello has already stated that the league will review the plays for possible rule changes.
“As for things that occurred during the game, in my mind, they’re done,” Chargers head coach Norv Turner said. “We sent the plays … that we had in question. We expect to get a response back. Anything that we talk about or anything that is discussed in terms of any of the rules or any of the calls isn’t going to change the outcome of that game. That game is going to be 39-38, forever.”
The first blown call occurred when the referees ruled what appeared to be a completed pass (from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to wide receiver Chris Chambers) an interception, though replays showed Denver cornerback Champ Bailey pulling the ball away after both were on the ground. Denver was awarded the ball at the 28-yard line and quickly converted the possession into a touchdown.
But the replays were the network replays. The NFL replay equipment failed.
“That was tough to swallow because it turned into seven points,” Rivers said. “You’d like to think there is a backup plan. You’ve got every TV angle paused and highlighted and four jumbotrons in the stadium that can show it.”
But the bigger play in the game came in the final minute when an inadvertent whistle turned a fumble by Denver quarterback Jay Cutler into an incomplete pass. Denver retained possession and scored a touchdown and two-point conversion for the one-point victory.
“It’s a point blank missed call,” Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. “So many people are affected by it. That’s the thing that’s most disappointing. It’s not just us — it’s our families, the fans. Everybody is affected by the call. A prime example is when I called my wife after the game, and she was crying, all because of a call. It happens, but it’s huge.”
In 2007, the NFL changed the “down-by-contact” rule so that such a fumble ruling could be a reviewable play. The same could happen with the pass/fumble rule in 2009.
Usually, an inadvertent whistle involves a play during which the referee is fooled on a misdirection play in which player with the ball is running away from the scene of the falsely-blown whistle.
But in Sunday’s particular play, the ball was bouncing away from Cutler and Chargers linebacker Tim Dobbins, who recovered the ball before it went out of bounds. No other player was near the ball and, thus, no other player was confused by a whistle.
A new rule in 2009 should allow the referee to interpret what happened and make amends for the inadvertent whistle.
But that will help the 2008 Chargers as much as the 1978 Chargers were aided by a new fumble rule after the Oakland Raiders pulled off the “holy roller” play to beat the Chargers 21-20. In this game, Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler “threw” a fumble before he was sacked, and Pete Banazsak kicked the ball forward while pretending to be grasping for it. Dave Casper advanced it with his own stumbling grasp before finally falling on it in the end zone for a touchdown.
By 1979, there was a new rule in place that prevented such a fumble from being advanced.
But, like Turner said in reference to the 39-38 loss in 2008, the 1978 Oakland-San Diego score has remained 21-20 “forever.”