A referee's error in a National Football League playoff game on Sunday helped the Indianapolis Colts score a late touchdown in an eventual loss to Pittsburgh, a league official announced on Monday.
Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice president of officiating, said in a statement that referee Pete Morelli was mistaken when he overturned an interception by Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu upon television video replay review.
Pereira said that Morelli made an error in judgement by reversing the ruling on the field with 5:26 remaining in the fourth quarter of a game the Steelers would eventually win 21-18, but only after the Colts squandered second chances.
Polamalu made a diving interception of a pass by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, rolled over with the ball in his hands and got up to run.
As he rose, he knocked the ball from his grasp with his left knee, but quickly pounced on his own fumble.
Colts coach Tony Dungy challenged the call of an interception, which would have given Pittsburgh the ball with an 11-point lead and a strong chance to run out the clock.
Replays clearly showed Polamalu catching the ball and fumbling as he rose to run, but Morelli reversed the call, saying Polamalu's right knee was still on the ground when the ball came loose.
"He never had possession with his leg up off the ground doing an act common to the game of football," Morelli said. "He was losing it while his other leg was still on the ground."
But Pereira said Morelli was applying the wrong rule, using one involving possession when the ball comes loose during contact with an opponent, which was not the case since Polamalu was unchallenged.
"The replay showed that Polamalu had rolled over and was rising to his feet when the ball came loose. He maintained possession long enough to establish a catch. Therefore the replay review should have upheld the call," Pereira said.