Depending on where you stand on the NFL's "Tuck Rule," the Baltimore Ravens either got a fumble recovery they deserved with 2:37 left in the third quarter, or the Denver Broncos were completely jobbed by a rule that should not even be in the rulebook.
On the play, and with Denver up 28-21 in their divisional round game with the Ravens, Denver had third-and-10 at their own 46-yard line. Peyton Manning didn't seem to like what he saw downfield as the pocket collapsed around him, and tried to tuck the ball back in. He lost possession of the ball, and Baltimore defender Paul Kruger came up with it at the Denver 37-yard line. Referee Bill Vinovich's crew called it a fumble on the field, and it was subject to replay per NFL rules.
Of course, the play brought up the "Tuck Rule," made infamous in the divisional playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots in January of 2002. Late in the game, it appeared that Pats quarterback Tom Brady fumbled the ball and Oakland recovered. However, referee Walt Coleman called it an incomplete pass, gave New England possession, and the Pats eventually won the game. The rule has been debated ever since, but it's in place as it has been since it was incorporated in 1999.
From the NFL Rule Book:
NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.
"I agree with Vinovich," FOX Sports analyst and former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira said on Twitter. "Tuck rule states that if player loses possession after he tucks the ball back into his body it's a fumble. Remember it was called a fumble on the field and there was not enough to reverse it. The key was that he got it all the way back to his body before it was knocked out."
As much as I generally find Pereira's double talk to be objectionable and superfluous, I think he -- and Vinovich -- got it right in this case. We'll have the video soon, but on the play, you can see that Manning tucked the ball into his upper body before fully losing control of the football. Even if it was a borderline play (which it didn't seem to be), there wasn't enough on the replay to overturn it, and through Vinovich's crew had made some pretty brutal decisions in the game, I find it difficult to argue with that one.
The fumble really hurt the Broncos. Five plays after Baltimore for the ball back, Ravens running back Ray Rice tied the game up at 28-all with a one-yard touchdown run.