Reversed call costs Colts scoring chance

An overturn of a Chad Bratzke interception and injuries to three running backs proved costly for the Colts.

Updated: October 13, 2003, 4:22 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Colts defensive end Chad Bratzke grabbed a game-turning interception and sensed someone was going to try to steal the ball from his hand.

An errant Jake Delhomme pass hit the hands of Bratzke, who was fighting off Carolina blockers at the Panthers' 10-yard line. The Panthers led 20-13, and Bratzke knew this was going to be the game-turning play. Panthers tight end Kris Mangum tried to rip the ball from Bratzke's hands and make a simultaneous possession.

Then the ball fell to the ground and was recovered by Colts defensive end Raheem Brock at the Panthers' 4. Instead of being in position to tie the game, a reverse replay review turned out to be an important element in the Colts' 23-20 overtime loss.

Chad Bratzke
Bratzke
Someone had possession, or so the Colts thought. Either Bratzke had it or Mangum had it. Or both had it. Officials ruled the ball belonged to the Colts because of the fumble recovered by Brock, but referee Larry Nemmers went over his allotted 90 seconds of replay time to rule that no one had possession and it was an incomplete pass.

Colts coach Tony Dungy went crazy as he shouted at the officials.

"I'm watching the same replay as the official and I'm trying to figure out what they see to overturn it," Dungy said. "The official said he saw enough evidence that Chad never had the ball."

Only indisputable evidence can be used to change an on-the-field decision. Dungy and the Colts thought there was nothing conclusive from the replay.

"The ruling on the field was it was an interception and a fumble, recovery by the defensive team," Nemmers said. "In the replay, I thought that both players, defense and offense, grabbed the ball [and] never had control of it and the ball popped out. Therefore, it was an incomplete passes. It wasn't dual possession. I did not believe so. No."

Bratzke disagrees.

"I reached down and pulled it back and was backpedaling," Bratzke said. "Everyone jumped on it and was ripping at it. I fumbled. He [Mangum] fumbled. People were in front of me after I grabbed the interception and I was starting to go backwards."

A part of Mangum's post-game quotes could be used as evidence for the Colts.

I'm watching the same replay as the official and I'm trying to figure out what they see to overturn it. The official said he saw enough evidence that Chad never had the bal.
Colts coach Tony Dungy

"I knew when it hit his hands, I knew I was going to get my hands on it pretty quick," Mangum said. "I guess the official saw the ball coming out. I knew he was going to tuck the ball in, and I was going to rip it out. I don't know if he had control. It all happened pretty quick."

Of course, how can you rip out something that wasn't possessed?

"It had to be incomplete," Mangum said. "The ball hit the ground."

Of course, that was only one of the reasons the Colts were in position to lose this game. The Colts decided to sit Edgerrin James for a third week to give his damaged transverse process bones a rest. In addition, the Colts gave Dominic Rhodes a chance to rest his reconstructed knee with Indianapolis heading into the bye week.

With James and Rhodes sidelined, the Colts entered the game with two backs, Ricky Williams and James Mungro, and Williams injured an ankle on the second play of the second quarter. He also fumbled twice while he and Mungro combined for 67 yards and one touchdown on 25 rushes.

"Edgerrin ended up being a little sore from practice," Dungy said. "He got here and ran and just couldn't go. Hopefully, we'll get both guys back after the bye week. Ricky ended up spraining an ankle early at the goal line. He came back and gutted it out and did pretty well."

But the lack of a consistent running game ruined Peyton Manning's timing. After completing 11 of 16 pass attempts for 176 yards and having a 105.2 rating in the first half, Manning was three of eight in the third quarter for 20 yards. It allowed the Panthers to turn a 10-point deficit into an eventual four-point lead.

The stalled offense, particular the decision to call running plays on third downs, provoked Colts fans to boo after intermission.

"We've only been doing that for six years now," Manning said. "We're one of the few teams that does run the ball on third down because every team plays the pass. For years, we've done that. Usually, we're not trying to get 2-yard gains. We're trying to get 20-yard gains. They were playing 'Cover 2' with a man underneath just about the entire second half. If you can't run the ball against the defense, you're in for a long half."

The Colts couldn't run against the Panthers defense. They were in for a long half and their first loss of the season.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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