NFL officials were forced to explain themselves after a controversial non-call played a role in the outcome of Thursday night’s Week 12 game between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts. With the Texans up 20-17 and under two minutes to play, Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson took a six-yard run in an attempt to run out the clock, but Colts linebacker Darius Leonard stripped the ball from Watson and the ball ended up on the ground.
With 50 seconds left in the game, Colts head coach Frank Reich couldn’t challenge the ruling, leaving it to the discretion of NFL officials. The fumble wasn’t reviewed and the game continued on with the Texans running out the clock and winning the game, taking over first place in the AFC South. If the fumble was reviewed and the Colts recovered, they would have had the ball at their own 35-yard line with a timeout left and 50 seconds to earn themselves a chance to drive down and convert a game-tying field goal.
After the Texans ran the next play, viewers were left confused as to why the NFL didn’t make the decision to review the play during a time when it was up to the official to call for a review. In a game that was ultimately decided by just three points, the NFL acted fast to explain their side of the story. But first — here is another look at the Waston run and potential fumble — you can be the judge:
The NFL immediately explained why the fumble wasn’t reviewed, saying on the NFL Officiating Twitter account: “Officials on the field ruled a fumble recovered by the offense. There was no clear visual evidence of a recovery by the defense.”
The “not a clear recovery” explanation reared its ugly head once again, as the league’s officials didn’t even bother to review the play at the most crucial point of the ball game.
“That was a fumble. I had it,” said Leonard, who finished with six tackles in the game (via Zak Keefer of The Athletic).
Adding more confusion, Leonard claims he was told by Watson the ball was out and it was on the ground.
The Colts fell to second place in the AFC South with the loss, now trailing the Texans by a game for the division lead. The Colts and Texans split the season series, so a tie for the division title would put the team that has the best division record in play to determine the division winner. Both the Texans and Colts are 3-1 in the division, so the next tiebreaker would go to record against teams within the conference. The Texans are 6-2 against AFC opponents while the Colts are 5-5.
That fumble cost the Colts an opportunity to take a one-game lead over the Texans with five games to play, but the Colts would have been basically two games up with the head-to-head tiebreaker if they swept the series. Getting a tie would have forced overtime, where anything could have happened between either team.
The Colts didn’t get an opportunity to see if they even had the ball, due to the official’s negligence to review a play they had control over reviewing. The league’s officials dropped the ball once again.