The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were two minutes and 39 yards from the Super Bowl before the offense backpedaled its way out of the NFC title game.
An untimely sack coupled with an unfavorable call by the replay official wiped out any chance for a heroic comeback for rookie quarterback Shaun King in an 11-6 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Facing first-and-10 from St. Louis' 22-yard line, King was sacked for a 13-yard loss by Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom.
The Bucs appeared to get most of those yard back on second down when King hit wide receiver Bert Emanuel with a 12-yard pass on the right sideline. During a television timeout, the replay official reviewed the catch and ruled it an incomplete pass.
"They just said that it was no catch," Emanuel said. "They didn't say why or how, or that the ball hit the ground or anything. There was no explanation. The replay just said that it was a no-catch. That's hard to believe."
According to field referee Bill Carollo, the play had been ruled a catch on the field. However, the replay assistant, Jerry Marbreit, reviewed the play, and the catch was overturned based on evidence provided from the replay booth.
"It was apparent that the player -- as he was catching the ball -- used the ground, and the tip of the ball hit the ground," Carollo said. "By rule, you cannot use the ground or have assistance from the ground to make a catch."
Emanuel was oblivious that the play was under review.
"I got up and was thinking about the next play because we were in a two-minute [offense] situation," Emanuel said. "It's one of those things where as a player you know if it's a controversial play or if it's something that should be reviewed."
Bucs Coach Tony Dungy, who has had his share of bad luck involving replays this season, was diplomatic when asked specifically about the play.
"I'm a league guy," Dungy said. "So if they say it hit the ground, then I'm sure it hit the ground."
King was not so sure. Though he was aware the play was being reviewed, he was not in position to see the replay.
"I had stopped watching it because I thought Bert had caught it," King said. "I immediately started looking toward the sidelines for the next play. Then the referee said he was going to review it. Bert thought he caught it also."
King threw two more incomplete passes, including a Hail Mary pass into the end zone on fourth down to end the Bucs' season. Most of the players blamed their earlier failed scoring opportunities for the loss instead of any calls made by the officials.
"You can't take this game and blame it on a late call by the officials with the amount of opportunities we had offensively," said Bucs center Tony Mayberry, who caused his team to give up a safety with a high snap in the second quarter.
It was especially hard for Emanuel. He was confident King would get the team in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, and as a former member of the Atlanta Falcons, he looked forward to returning to the Georgia Dome.
"It's hard when you work so hard to accomplish something and then have it taken away by replay," Emanuel said. "I didn't see the TV replay or the replay [on the big screen] in the dome. All I know is that I caught it clean. I didn't even think it was close enough to be reviewed."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times