NFL backs ruling on Stafford fumble in Lions loss

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett knocks the ball away from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Denver recovers Sunday night.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and coach Jim Caldwell took issue with a critical fourth-quarter fumble that cost them a scoring opportunity while trailing 14-12 in a loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday night.

On the play, Stafford scrambled to his right, and after seeing nobody open, he rolled back to his left. As he tried to dump the ball off to running back Ameer Abdullah, linebacker Shaquil Barrett hit him and forced a fumble, though it appeared there was a chance Stafford’s arm was going forward.

An NFL spokesman said the officials made the right call of fumble in an email Monday, in part because the league abolished the tuck rule in 2013. The direction of Stafford’s right hand was more important than the direction his arm was moving.

“When Matthew Stafford lost the football, his hand was moving in a downward direction, coming back toward his body,” the league said in a statement. “That is why the play was ruled a fumble and confirmed as a fumble, as all turnovers are automatically reviewed. Prior to the removal of the tuck rule, this would have been considered an incomplete pass.”

The Broncos scored on a 48-yard field goal on the ensuing possession to take a 17-12 lead and eventually beat the Lions, 24-12.

Stafford said after the game that the referee told him the video evidence confirmed the fumble, but Caldwell thought it was a pass.

“They didn’t think it did, evidently,” Caldwell said, referencing whether Stafford’s hand went forward. “Pretty obvious to me.”