We are examining the video of the inadvertent whistle from the Raiders-Bengals game, and have confirmed that the line judge was responsible for terminating the play. Because the highlight video on NFL.com does not clearly illustrate the inadvertent whistle, we have the video the help of friend of the site, Timothy Burke of Mocksession (@bubbaprog), and we post it here for critical review:
The ball is clearly loose at the time of the whistle, as line judge Julian Mapp throws his blue beanbag to mark the fumble. From the high shot from the Raiders end zone, Mapp is then seen at the top of the frame bringing his left hand up and blowing his finger whistle to call the play dead. He anticipated the ball landing out of bounds and did not expect the ball to be batted back in bounds. (By the way, batting the ball in this case is not a penalty.)
As we pointed out earlier, it should have been ruled an incomplete pass, because Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu did not hold the ball long enough after his second foot came down to complete the process of the catch. This was reviewable, but in all the chaos and confusion of the previous play, it is no wonder why it wasn’t challenged by the Raiders. (Since there was technically no turnover, there is no automatic review by the replay official.)
Some of the comments I received suggested that the whistle means fumble out of bounds, so that call should stand. However, the whistle is a signal, not a ruling. At the time of the whistle, the ball was loose, and the ruling must reflect that. The term inadvertent does not only encompass an accidental exhale into the whistle, but any time that a whistle blows during a live ball.
You can see the frustration in referee Alberto Riveron’s face as he tries to definitively determine where the ball was and whether the Raiders had possession of the ball. Mapp was tasked with the duty to admit his mistake to Raiders coach Mike Allen and explain that there is no touchdown and the Bengals get to re-do third down. Allen is seen clearly yelling “that’s bullshit” to Mapp, and he is correct, which is why it is one of the worst mistakes an official can make.
As painful as the error was, Mapp owned up to it and courageously confronted the offended coach. He may have a difficult time getting a playoff assignment, but at least he did not cover it up.