Bengals-Raiders outcome marred by NFL referee hijinx

american football, franco harris, frenchy fuqua, immaculate reception, Jack Tatum, joe burrow, khalid kareem, moehrig, national football league, national football league playoffs, national football league season, NFL, sports, the nfl, tyler boyd

Was this pass dead in the air?

Was this pass dead in the air?
Image: Getty Images

It’s a bit shy of 50 years since the Raiders got knocked out of the playoffs by The Immaculate Reception, a play that wasn’t just dramatic, but controversial.

Did the ball hit the ground? Did it hit Jack Tatum, making it a legal catch for Franco Harris, or did it only hit Frenchy Fuqua, which would have meant an incompletion under the rules at the time? The answers to those questions have been a source of debate for 49 years and one month.

Today, the Raiders are out of the playoffs again, and just as in December of 1972, there’s a controversial touchdown that’s a big part of the reason why.

Joe Burrow’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd just after the two-minute warning in the first half did have one bit of clarity: the Bengals quarterback clearly was still inbounds when he threw the ball. What’s less clear is what happened while the ball was in the air.

The whistle clearly blew before Boyd caught the ball, and by rule, when there’s a whistle, the play is supposed to be dead. So, yes, the Raiders do have some beef there.

If you pause the video at the time the whistle blew, though, it’s also clear that Raiders safety Tre’von Moehrig was not going to make a play on the ball or do anything to stop Boyd from making the catch. While Moehrig definitely did let up when the whistle sounded, and the NFL’s assertion that Boyd caught the ball before the whistle is plainly wrong, it’s hard to say whether his reaction was to the whistle or to knowing he was beaten by Boyd, who was already into his jump by the time the whistle sounded — the ball already was at the goal line, at least.

Had the officials ruled the play an incompletion and not a touchdown, the Bengals, who went on to snap their 31-year playoff victory drought, would have been incensed, and it would be pretty easy to say that they were the victims of Some Bullshit — not necessarily the wrong call, but a wrong outcome for sure. That play was a touchdown.

The Raiders aren’t wrong to think that the way the play wound up was Some Bullshit, because once that wayward whistle blew, someone was gonna get screwed over by how it wound up. But Las Vegas also benefited from Some Bullshit on the game’s final drive, a roughing-the-passer call against Khalid Kareem that got the Raiders 15 yards closer to a tying touchdown.

When you have first-and-goal at the 9 yard line with 30 seconds left and can’t score a touchdown to tie the game, ending up instead with an interception on fourth down after stupidly clocking the ball on first down, this game won’t get a cute nickname or half a century and counting of debate about whether the 26-19 Cincinnati outcome was right.

The Bengals won, fair and square, and now they’ll try to avoid further replication of the 1972 Steelers, who a week after The Immaculate Reception were so inspired by that magical moment that they lost, 21-17, to the Dolphins.

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