CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NFL said the 76-yard punt return by Denver's Trindon Holliday against Carolina on Sunday should have been ruled a touchback, not a touchdown.
In the second quarter of Denver's 36-14 win, the Broncos' 5-foot-5 returner raced up the sidelines and appeared to score. Replays showed Holliday prematurely celebrating the TD by flipping the ball out of his hands before crossing the goal line.
Replay official Bob Boylston confirmed the touchdown and, as a result, referee Alberto Riveron did not stop the game for an instant replay review.
The NFL said Monday in a statement "Because the video showed that Holliday lost possession of the ball before it broke the plane of the goal line, Boylston should have stopped the game to initiate an instant replay review. Had that occurred, Riveron would have had the indisputable visual evidence necessary to overturn the on-field ruling. The result of the play should have been a touchback - not a touchdown - with Carolina gaining possession at the 20 yard-line."
"I thought I was actually in end zone this week but I wasn't," Holliday said Monday. "Coach (John Fox) told me next time, just bring in the ball."
Of course, all of that doesn't help the Panthers now.
Holliday's touchdown was a major turning point in the game and ushered in a Broncos scoring onslaught. At the time when he field the punt, the score was tied at 7, but the Broncos would go on to score 29 straight points to take charge and win going away in Fox's return to Carolina.
"He definitely flipped it before he got in," said Panthers special teamer Richie Brockel. "But that's the way it went, unfortunately. The call didn't go in our favour, but it still counted for six points."
The play might have also cost Carolina special teams co-ordinator Brian Murphy his job. One day after Holliday's return, Panthers coach Ron Rivera announced he had fired Murphy citing "philosophical differences and productivity."
Rivera said earlier Monday he planned to send the play to the league because he thought the play should have been ruled a touchback.
It is the second straight week the Panthers have been involved in a play where a touchdown should have been nullified.
The NFL said on Nov. 5 that a 30-yard touchdown run by Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams against the Washington Redskins should not have counted because of an inadvertent whistle. The Panthers should have instead been offered the ball at the 17-yard line at the point where line judge Thomas Symonette blew his whistle because he mistakenly thought Williams had stepped out of bounds, the league said.
Williams kept running and was awarded the first-half touchdown in the Panthers' 21-13 victory Sunday. Redskins linebacker Perry Riley said he stopped pursuing the play because he heard the whistle.
Referee Carl Cheffers said after the game that the officials decided the whistle wasn't blown until Williams reached the end zone and that it didn't affect the play's outcome, so the touchdown ruling stood. Replays show the whistle was blown earlier, but an inadvertent whistle is not reviewable by replay.