The Play: Travis Kelce’s fumble looms large in Arizona Cardinals’ win
Dec 8, 2014, 2:23 AM | Updated: 2:38 am
GLENDALE, Ariz. — It looked like a normal 18-yard completion.
Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith hit tight end Travis Kelce with the pass for a first down with just under 5:30 left in the game that put the Chiefs in good position to, at the very least, kick a field goal to tie a tight game. But the ball squirted out at the end of the play as Kelce rolled over. Arizona Cardinals defensive back Justin Bethel ran over to pick up the ball at the 15-yard line.
Kelce got up and headed back to the huddle. Bethel didn’t try to advance the ball once he picked it up.
About 26 seconds later, as the Chiefs were coming to the line to run their first-down play, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians threw his red challenge flag after replays were shown on the big boards at University of Phoenix Stadium.
After a long review, referee Craig Wrolstad ruled that the ball had started to come out after a hit from Arizona safety Deone Bucannon and since there was a clear recovery from Bethel, it would be Cardinals’ football at the 16-yard line.
Arizona would go on to win the game 17-14.
“Mike Disner is up in our box with our coaches and does the pictures, and he was the first one to see the ball come loose. At this point in time, that timeout isn’t worth a damn thing,” Arians said. “If we lose this challenge, we’re losing a timeout. That challenge was huge and it was the correct call.”
Those wearing the red and yellow of the Chiefs would beg to differ.
“From my vision, I thought he regained possession of the ball, but I’m not making that call,” Kansas City head coach Andy Reid said. “You’ve got to keep the ball high and tight in that area, and we have to make sure…I can’t. Go on to something besides the officials. I don’t have anything good to say.”
A pool reporter, Kent Somers of AZCentral Sports, was permitted to talk to Wrolstad, who overturned the crucial call on the field.
“The tight end caught the ball, took a number of steps, got hit as he was going to the ground before any part of his body was on the ground, the ball came loose,” Wrolstad said. “He tried to get it, the other guy tried to get it, but the ball continued to be loose and rolled to a stop, at which time a player five yards away picked up the ball.
“So, he actually had a clear recovery. So, the challenge was that we had initially ruled it was a catch, and he was down by contact. And, when we looked at it in replay, we saw that indeed the ball had come loose, he was not down by contact and then if there is a clear recovery, we can reverse it and give the ball to the defense. And that’s what happened.”
Kansas City would get the ball back for one more possession, but couldn’t advance it any further than their own 36-yard line.
“I thought I regained the control of the ball,” Kelce said. “But, you can’t go back in time. I fumbled the ball. It was called as a fumble and I’m just going to have to live with that, come back next week and help my team win.”
Smith, who threw the pass, thought the play was dead.
“I was pretty surprised and shocked,” he said. “I felt like they whistled it, which was tough once they whistle it. You’re not trying to recover it or anything.”
That would also explain the deliberate pace the Chiefs used to get to the line of scrimmage for the next play. When a team feels like they got away with something in terms of ball security, they’ll usually hustle to the line and snap the ball before the opponent can see a replay. Kansas City let almost a half-minute tick off the clock, allowing the Cardinals to make the judgment to challenge.
Kelce ultimately took responsibility for the play.
“Either way it was a huge play in the game,” he said. “It’s my job not to even give doubt or put the team in that position.”