Raiders robbed by erroneous whistle on Joe Burrow’s TD pass to Tyler Boyd

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Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was absolutely incendiary in the first half of his team’s wild-card playoff game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Burrow completed 12 of 18 passes for 146 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 128.5. Burrow’s most improbable throw, a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Tyler Boyd with 1:51 left in the first half, both should and should not have counted.

That makes no sense until you consider that the deciding factor in that bit of nonsense has to do with the one bit of consistency we’ve seen the 2021 NFL season — terrible officiating.

Here’s the play. Burrow rolled to his right, and hit Boyd with an outstanding throw just before he went out of bounds.

Right after Burrow released the ball, it appears that line judge Mark Steinkerchner blows the whistle indicating that Burrow was out of bounds. And per league rules, nothing after that matters. You can see various Raiders defenders holding up in the end zone as a result. There’s no way to know if the result would have been different had Steinkerchner pocketed his whistle as he should have, but that’s what we’re left with.

(NFL Game Pass)

As former NFL official and NBC rules expert Terry McAulay said on the broadcast when NBC finally covered it on the Raiders’ subsequent drive, it was not a reviewable play, the ball was dead right when the whistle blew, the down should have been replayed, and there’s no way the touchdown should have counted. On the replay of the play, you can see Boger and Steinkerchner discussing the play before Boger signals touchdown.

Which is inexplicable. Per Rule 7, Section 2, Article (o) of the NFL Rulebook:

When an official sounds the whistle erroneously while the ball is still in play, the ball becomes dead immediately.

    1. If the ball is in player possession, the team in possession may elect to put the ball in play where it has been declared dead or to replay the down.

    2. If the ball is a loose ball resulting from a fumble, backward pass, or illegal forward pass, the team last in possession may elect to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to replay the down.

    3. If the ball is a loose ball resulting from a legal forward pass, a free kick, a fair-catch kick, or a scrimmage kick, the ball is returned to the previous spot, and the down is replayed.

    4. If there is a foul by either team during any of the above, and the team in possession at the time of the erroneous whistle elects not to replay the down, penalty enforcement is the same as for fouls during a run, forward pass, kick, fumble, and backward pass. If the team in possession elects to replay the down, all penalties will be disregarded, except for personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, which will be administered prior to the replaying of the down. If the down is replayed, the game clock will be reset to the time remaining when the snap occurred, and the clock will start on the snap.

It was a clear mistake by Steinkerchner, because the replay showed that Burrow was in bounds when he threw the ball. It was an amazing play, and it should have counted as it did, but because the whistle blew, it then should not have. Boger was right in a hypothetical sense to ignore the whistle and call the touchdown, but there’s no provision in the rule book for overturning an erroneous whistle.

The Bengals went into the tunnel leading 20-13.