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Why didn’t John Harbaugh challenge Wes Welker’s pivotal catch-that-wasn’t?

Jay Busbee
Shutdown Corner

There are plays in the great and chaotic game of football which will always remain up for debate. Did Franco Harris actually catch the Immaculate Reception? Did Tom Brady actually "tuck" that football during that crucial playoff game? Who actually caught that Seahawks/Packers "touchdown" pass last year? We'll never know.

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We do know about that third-quarter Wes Welker reception, though. Pretty much everyone not wearing black and white stripes knew, and confirmed with a replay, that the ex-Pat trapped the ball on the crucial opening drive of the second half of Thursday's Denver-Baltimore season opener. But Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't challenge the play, and seconds later, the Broncos had turned a 17-14 deficit into a 21-17 lead. You know how the rest of the Denver assault went.

But why didn't Harbaugh throw the challenge flag? If ever a play deserved to be challenged, it was this one, and given the outcome, it literally changed the complexion of the game. To hear Harbaugh tell it, though, he had no idea Welker received the turf assist.

"This is the first I've heard of it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game. "That's something you have to see, it'd be nice if NBC would show it, but we didn't have a chance to look at it."

There are two parts to that statement, one true, one false. NBC obviously showed the replay; pretty much all of the country saw it. But Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was running the offense with such precision, and with an eye toward the clock, that he didn't even give the Ravens time to gather themselves and consider challenging the call.

[Related: Ravens couldn't have looked much worse in first step of title defense]

As NFL.com notes, Welker (and the ground) caught the ball at the 14:08 mark of the third, and Manning snapped the ball 24 seconds later ... barely five seconds after the end of the replay. The Ravens' coaching staff upstairs thus apparently didn't have time to watch the replay and call down to Harbaugh.

So, don't blame NBC, Baltimore fans; blame Peyton. As always, he's one step ahead of everybody else.

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