Controversial ruling on Zach Pascal fumble nearly cost Bills first playoff win since 1995

It just wouldn’t be wild-card weekend in the NFL without a (potentially) controversial ruling by the officials.

Said ruling occurred late in the fourth quarter of the Bills-Colts game in Orchard Park, N.Y. Indianapolis, trailing 27-24, was attempting to mount a drive into field goal range to send the game into overtime. On fourth-and-10 at the Colts’ 37 and with just 50 seconds remaining, Indy quarterback Philip Rivers found receiver Zach Pascal for an 18-yard gain to the Buffalo 45.

Except: Bills safety Zach Poyer seemed to have forced a fumble, recovered by Buffalo, after Pascal got off the ground, which would have essentially ended the game. Pascal, though, was ruled down by contact. Because the play occurred under the two-minute mark, Bills coach Sean McDermott was forced to call a timeout to ensure the play would be reviewed. (Officials gave Bills the timeout back, saying they would have stopped play to conduct a booth review.)

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Replay seemed to show Pascal standing when Poyer forced the fumble, and also not touched while on the turf, but officials upheld the call.

Here’s the play — with accompanying explanation — for reference:

The ruling, even with the seemingly erroneous explanation, kept Indianapolis alive in its upset bid. The Colts couldn’t do much with the gift, however: One play later, Michael Pittman Jr. took a 1-yard reception and fumbled it for a net 2-yard loss. Rivers threw the ball out of bounds on the ensuing two plays, forcing Indianapolis to attempt a game-ending Hail Mary from the Bills’ 47.

Rivers’ pass fell short of intended receiver T.Y. Hilton, with Bills defender Micah Hyde knocking the ball harmlessly to the ground. That gave Buffalo its first playoff win since it downed the Dolphins 37-22 in the wild-card round of the 1995 playoffs.

Luckily for the officials, they became a much smaller part of the game than they could have been otherwise. The second-seeded Bills advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs, where they will once again host a game.

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