Bob Leverone/Associated Press file photo
Bob Leverone/Associated Press file photo
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 and not a touchdown.
In the second quarter of Denver’s 36-14 win, the Broncos’ 5-5 returner raced up the sidelines and appeared to score. Replays showed Holliday prematurely celebrating the touchdown 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 fielded the punt, the score was tied at 7, but the Broncos would go on to score 29 consecutive points to take charge and win going away in Fox’s return to Carolina.
“He definitely flipped it before he got in,” Panthers special teamer Richie Brockel said. “But that’s the way it went, unfortunately. The call didn’t go in our favor, but it still counted for six points.”
The play might have also cost Carolina special teams coordinator Brian Murphy his job. One day after Holliday’s return, Panthers coach Ron Rivera 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 consececutive week the Panthers have been involved in a play where a touchdown should have been nullified.
The NFL said 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 instead should have 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.
The Denver Broncos waived safety Duke Ihenacho, opening a roster spot that could be filled by linebacker D.J. Williams.
Williams was reinstated Monday after sitting out the first nine games of the season while serving two separate NFL suspensions. He’ll practice Wednesday for the first time since training camp, where he was relegated to individual drills and backup duty while the Broncos prepared his replacements for the regular season.
The Broncos (6-3) can evaluate Williams over the next few days before activating him to the 53-man roster. Coach John Fox said the coaching staff needs to see him practice before making any decisions.
The team’s leading tackler in five of the last eight seasons, Williams said Monday that it was difficult to watch his teammates play without him, “but I did the crime, gotta do the time. It’s over with now. Hopefully, I can move on and help my team continue to keep winning.”
Williams was suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league’s banned-substances policy after the NFL said he supplied a “nonhuman” urine sample during a drug test. Commissioner Roger Goodell tacked on three games for Williams’ second alcohol-related driving conviction in August.
He forfeited in the neighborhood of $4 million from a combination of lost salary, money he had to pay back from his bonuses and a restructuring of his contract that he agreed to because of the suspensions.
Williams praised the Broncos’ starting linebackers – Wesley Woodyard, Keith Brooking and Von Miller – for their solid performances so far and said he’ll play whatever role he’s asked, including special teams, but hopes to return to a prominent position on the team before long.
“Without being out there for a long time, there will be some rust,” Williams said. “But football’s a great sport to come back to because when it doubt, just hit somebody.”
Ihenacho has been up and down between the Broncos’ practice squad and active roster all season. The undrafted rookie from San Jose State played in two games and made one special teams tackle.