"Officials are held accountable for their calls. They are graded on every play of every game," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Monday. "Ed has been an outstanding official for many years, but he will be marked down for this call. Under our evaluation system, an official's grades impact his status for potentially working the playoffs and ultimately whether or not he is retained."
The play occurred with the Broncos at the Chargers' 1-yard line in the final minute. Denver quarterback Jay Cutler dropped back to pass, and the ball slipped out of his hands, bounced off the grass and into the arms of San Diego linebacker Tim Dobbins.
Hochuli ruled it an incomplete pass. Replay ruled it a fumble, but it was spotted at the 10-yard line, where the ball hit the ground, and given to Denver because the rules did not permit possession to be awarded to San Diego because the whistle had blown.
Denver went on to score, convert a two-point conversion and win 39-38.
The play is also likely to be reviewed in the offseason by the league's competition committee, which normally reviews all controversial plays.
"It's going to require a great deal of discussion," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the cochairman of the competition committee. "It's happened at times. It happened in a game against us at Indianapolis years ago. ... When the whistle blows and the pass is ruled incomplete, there's just no way currently that you can award possession."
For example, until March 2007, down-by-contact plays were not reviewable. That rule was changed so that they were reviewable, and if a fumble occurred even after the whistle blew, the team recovering it got possession
San Diego coach Norv Turner said he spoke with NFL officials Monday and that the Chargers sent in video of the plays in question.
"As for things that occurred during the game, in my mind, they're done," Turner said. "We sent the plays in to the league that we had in question. We expect to get a response back. 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."
Denver coach Mike Shanahan said honest mistakes always happen in the NFL.
"This was the best crew that we have had in the last 20 crews I have graded," Shanahan said. "They did a heck of a job. Every game that you see that is within a point or a field goal over the last couple years, it may be a call or a non-call that wasn't right, but that is the nature of this game. You have to find a way to win.
"We still had the ball at third-and-10 and had to get it into the end zone. Third-and-10 and then fourth-and-4. We still had to make a two-point conversion," Shanahan said. "It wasn't like somebody gave us the touchdown. You have to go out there and still get it done."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wasn't surprised that Hochuli was involved.
"That particular official gets a lot of criticism. He's a highly criticized official in the NFL," Jones said.
"Nothing can be done," he said. "I understand that after that whistle blows, you can't speculate, 'Well, did everybody get the best shot at recovering the ball if some of them heard the whistle and some of them didn't?'"