Aside from the Kris Brown(notes) missed field goal that ended the game and gave the Indianapolis Colts a 20-17 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday, the play that affected the Texans' chances of winning a very tight game was the fumble by running back Ryan Moats(notes) with 2:24 left in the first half. Moats had rumbled forward after catching a quick pass from quarterback Matt Schaub(notes), was hit by safety Antoine Bethea(notes) at the 3-yard line, and rolled out of bounds at the 2. However, Moats lost control of the ball before he went out of bounds, and the fumble was recovered by cornerback Jerraud Powers(notes).
The officials had blown the play dead at 2:24, assuming that Moats had gone out of bounds, the Texans let the clock run down before running another play, and that gave the Colts enough time to challenge the out-of-bounds call. Jeff Triplette's crew reversed the call on review, and the ruling was a touchback because Powers touched the ball as it lay on the goal line before he established two feet back inbounds. Indy's ball, potential game-deciding touchdown averted.
But according to Alan Burge of the Houston Texans Examiner, Triplette may have missed something that would have changed Powers' recovery.
The loose ball contacted Bethea's left arm as he tackled Moats and while Bethea's right leg was out of bounds at the 2 yard line. That means it should have been a dead ball there, right? And whatever happened after that should have been irrelevant, right?
My update: From the Official Rules of the NFL, Rule 8, Article 2: "A fumble is legally recovered or caught in bounds by a player if the player had both feet in bounds prior to the recovery or catch." Triplette's crew probably went with Rule 7, Article 6 (c): "A fumble in the field of play that goes into the opponent's end zone and over the end line or sideline results in the ball being given over to the defensive team and a touchback awarded" based on their belief that Bethea had both feet in bounds.
Burge has a picture of his DVR here, showing where he believes the dead ball spot should have occurred.
The lower image clearly shows that Bethea's right leg was out of bounds while in contact with the loose ball at the moment the upper photo was taken. Bethea's right elbow (that fuzzy black spot - he was wearing a large pad on his elbow) was also on the white line. In the milliseconds after this screen capture - and as Bethea is even further out of bounds - you can see Bethea's left arm move backward and push the ball toward the goal line where Powers (25) was waiting.
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has filed a report with the league. "The bottom line, they're saying that the ball was not touched by anybody who was out of bounds," he said on Monday. "Or if it was, it was only touched by Ryan [Moats], who was on top of another player. We thought looking at it that No. 41 [Bethea] is touching the ball and he's out of bounds. So we'll hear back from them."
This call will certainly make vice president of officiating Mike Pereira's weekly Official Review segment on the NFL Network worth watching -- when Rich Eisen asks Pereira to explain it, let's hope there's a better explanation than, "Well, our guys blew a call that could affect the landscape in the AFC South for the rest of the season."