Week 1: 49ers at Cardinals
It seems the Arizona Cardinals cannot finish a game without a controversial call on the last play of the game. In the first outing following the controversial game-ending fumble in Super Bowl XLIII, the Cardinals found themselves, again, in a last-second desperation call.
With eight seconds left in the 49ers–Cardinals game (video highlight at 2:10), the Cardinals needed 54 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback Kurt Warner was sacked with three seconds; the ball was fumbled and rolled out of bounds as time expired.
An interesting development arose, as the players (most visibly kicker Joe Nedney) entered onto the field with three seconds left with a live, loose ball. The play, according to the gamebook, did not end until the ball went out of bounds. Therefore, there were more than 11 players on the field.
Nedney, although near the ball, did not interfere with the play. Because the fumble was after the two-minute warning, only Warner (the fumbler) could legally recover for the Cardinals. So there was clearly no way the Cardinals had a chance to recover. But, by the letter of the rules, it is an illegal substitution, which would have been a 5-yard penalty and an untimed down for the Cardinals. A replay review could have been initiated, as the number of personnel is a reviewable call. It could not be challenged since there was less than two minutes.
Flashback: Browns at Chiefs, Week 1, 2002
This may appear to be overreaching, as players believed the play to be over and did not interfere with the play. But, that did not factor in an unsportsmanlike conduct call in the 2002 Browns–Chiefs opening day game. When Chiefs quarterback Trent Green was swarmed under with the clock showing 0:00, it appeared that the game was over. Dwayne Rudd of the Browns removed his helmet in celebration, not realizing that Green lateraled the ball to lineman John Tait, who was tackled at the 25-yard line.
Although Rudd thought the play was over, and did not have any affect on the play, he was nonetheless flagged for removing his helmet, which extended the quarter by an untimed down for the Chiefs’ game-winning field goal.
Today’s game was officiated by Don Carey’s crew (his first as referee); Lloyd McPeters was the replay official.