Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams caught a touchdown pass that would have tied the game with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, but the referees made a controversial call that ended the contest with a 35-28 Tampa Bay loss.
With time in the game dwindling, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman rolled out of the pocket and completed a touchdown pass to Williams, who had been pushed out of bounds by the Saints' Patrick Robinson.
As you can see in the video above, Williams re-entered the field of play and caught the pass. After review, officials overturned the call and the game ended.
Williams was called for illegal touching because he was out of bounds and then caught the pass. To determine whether or not the officials made the correct call, we have to examine Article 8 of the NFL Rulebook (h/t SI.com):
It is a foul for illegal touching if a forward pass (legal or illegal), thrown from behind the line of scrimmage:
(a) is first touched intentionally or is caught by an ineligible offensive player; or
(b) first touches or is caught by an eligible receiver who has gone out of bounds, either of his own volition or by being legally forced out of bounds, and has re-established himself inbounds.
The issue in question here is of course section (b) of Article 8. For the referees to throw a flag for illegal touching, it would have to be deemed whether Williams was legally or illegally forced out of bounds.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, Freeman rolled out of the pocket, which eliminates the possibility for an illegal contact penalty:
In TB not illegal contact because the QB was out of the pocket and you can't come back in and be the first to touch.—Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) October 21, 2012
Mike Pereira has this one correct. Had Freeman remained in the pocket, Robinson shoving Williams out of bounds would have been flagged and potentially given Tampa Bay another play with no time left on the clock.
Though fans will cry foul, the bottom line is that Tampa Bay played horribly down the stretch, giving up a 14-0 lead before the controversial ruling. The Buccaneers shouldn't have put themselves in that situation in the first place.
Official verdict: The referees were correct.