MNF officials confused by rule

Updated: October 17, 2003, 12:42 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NFL has admitted that game officials made a critical error late in the Oct. 6 Monday night game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts.

With 3:37 left in the fourth quarter and the Bucs leading 35-21, Colts placekicker Mike Vanderjagt's onside kick sailed airborne and was caught by Colts safety Idrees Bashir at the Indianapolis 42.

The Colts took advantage, driving 58 yards for a touchdown and eventually became the first team in league history to rally from 21 points behind in the final four minutes of regulation. They won 38-35 in overtime.

Mike Pereira, the NFL's director of officiating, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday that the game's officials failed to apply Rule 10, Section 1, Article 4, which says that on that type of an onside kick, the receiving team must be given the chance to catch the ball if the ball does not touch the ground.

A kicking team is allowed to recover an onside kick providing the ball has traveled 10 yards and has hit the ground.

Vanderjagt's kick did not hit the ground, and so the Colts should have been penalized 15 yards from the spot of the foul for interfereing with the Buc's right to catch the ball, according to the NFL.

That penalty would have given Tampa Bay the ball at the Indianapolis 27 yard line, the paper reported.

Pereira told the paper the play was not subject to review under the instant-replay rule.

Bucs coach Jon Gruden told the paper the team can't afford to look back whether an error was made or not.

"I don't know what you can do," Gruden told the paper. "There was a lot of screaming down there, and in the play that involved (defensive end) Simeon (Rice). (We were) trying to get them to look at the instant replay up there. Again, that game is over, I'm ready to get it out of here. I don't want to talk about it anymore.

"At the same time, with the officials, you understand that they have a very hard job to do," Gruden said. "Sometimes you wish there was no such thing as instant replay. All it does is prolong the agony."

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