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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Chargers endure more than one blown call on fumble

September 16, 2008|Sam Farmer

Anyone who caught a glimpse of NFL replays Monday probably knows about the uncalled fumble by Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, and the ill-timed whistle of referee Ed Hochuli.

Hochuli's blown call with little more than a minute remaining in the San Diego-Denver shootout paved the way for the Broncos' 39-38 victory -- and could change the way the league handles similar dead-ball controversies.

Horrendous as it was, that mistake might not have been so pivotal had there not been an earlier officiating breakdown that also went against the Chargers.

It happened on San Diego's first possession, when Philip Rivers completed a short pass to Chris Chambers on second down. As Chambers hit the turf at the San Diego 29-yard line, cornerback Champ Bailey reached in and stripped the ball from him. Officials first ruled it an interception, saying Bailey was down at the 29.

It was a deflating moment for the Chargers, but it didn't look as if it would hold up to scrutiny. CBS replays clearly showed Chambers' elbow touching the ground before Bailey stripped the ball, meaning the receiver was down before Denver took possession.

After taking a look at the replay, announcers Dick Enberg and Randy Cross agreed the ball would be returned to the Chargers. But after a delay, Hochuli announced that the replay system wasn't working and the two-minute time limit for a review had expired, so the call on the field would stand. The Broncos scored a touchdown five plays later.

But it was the bookend bad call that people will remember.

A quick review: With 1 minute 14 seconds remaining, the Broncos trailed by a touchdown but were within a yard of the end zone. Cutler took the snap, rolled to his right, and clearly fumbled the ball while attempting to pass. Even Cutler later said he fumbled.

Despite the fact he was directly behind Cutler and mere yards away from him, Hochuli ruled the play an incomplete pass and blew his whistle, signaling the play dead.

That meant, even after replay officials ruled correctly that it was a fumble, dead-ball rules prevented the Chargers from taking possession. The Broncos went on to score a touchdown and win the game with a gutsy two-point conversion.

On Monday, while defending Hochuli as "an outstanding official for many years," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said he will be marked down for the call and pointed out an official's grades "impact his status for potentially working the playoffs and ultimately whether or not he's retained."

The Chargers, meanwhile, have vowed to do just what Cutler did: Drop it.

"As for things that occurred during the game, in my mind they're done," Coach Norv Turner said during his weekly news conference. "We sent the plays in to the league that we had in question. . . . 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."

Also Monday, Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips wrote about the officiating controversies in his latest blog entry on yardbarker.com.

From his perspective, there's plenty of blame to go around.

"I can't say that the ref cheated us because that's a fine," Phillips wrote. "I can't say that the Broncos didn't win that game because that's being a sore loser. I can't say that it was a mistake that the replay machine wasn't working in the first [quarter] cause that would be a lie. . . . As a competitor it should never come down to the last play, but it did and we let it slip away."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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