Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians didn't mince words Monday when he opened his news conference by criticizing officials for an early whistle that cost his team a go-ahead touchdown late in Sunday's 27-23 loss at the Tennessee Titans.
With 3:45 to go in the fourth quarter, the Titans lined up for a field goal and faked it. Bucs linebacker Devin White tackled the holder, Titans punter Brett Kern, stripping him of the ball. Safety Andrew Adams recovered it and ran it in for what would have been a touchdown. But an early whistle blew the play dead, so it was instead ruled a turnover on downs.
"It was more than just one play. Everybody except for one guy saw the ball out. [He] blew a quick whistle," Arians said. "My biggest thing is, referees aren't held accountable. Coaches get fired. General managers get fired. Players get cut. Referees aren't accountable. And it's a shame. It's been that way for 40 years, and now that we've got a new agreement, it'll be that way for 40 more years."
NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron did reach out to Bucs officials Monday to discuss the play, a mea culpa of sorts in the wake of the missed call.
Arians expressed frustration with the lack of consistency across the league.
"Why is it continuing? Since the Rams-Saints game in the second week, when the Saints got a touchdown that they didn't get [a Cameron Jordan fumble recovery returned 87 yards for a touchdown that was called back due to an early whistle], there's been an emphasis on letting the plays go [before blowing them dead]. You can answer why it's not happening. I don't know."
The following week against the Seattle Seahawks, there was no whistle when Vonn Bell recovered a fumble and returned it 33 yards for a score. Then in Week 4, Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson fumbled the ball at the goal line against the Kansas City Chiefs when the score was tied 13-13, with Bashaud Breeland recovering it and running 100 yards for a touchdown -- a ruling that stood in a 34-30 loss for the Lions.
Head referee Adrian Hill told ESPN on Sunday, "Certainly after the whistle, we definitely saw a ball come out afterwards, but the ruling on the field was that the runner was down by contact before the ball came out, and that's why the whistle blew. So the whistle was blown because the ruling was 'runner down by contact.'"
When asked about their ability to review the play, Hill told ESPN, "The reviewable part of that play is, if it's reviewed and we saw that the ball came out early and that Tampa Bay recovered, we could give Tampa Bay the ball at the spot of recovery but could not award any advance after that."
Information from ESPN's Jeremy Fowler was used in this report.