The Chicago Bears held a 14-10 lead early in the third quarter Sunday when they gained a first down at the Washington Redskins' 1-yard line. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called a quarterback sneak for Jay Cutler, who leaned close to the ground at the line of scrimmage and placed his left leg far behind him to give himself extra power to get through the line.
Perhaps tipped off, Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth leaped over the line at the snap. As he collided with Haynesworth, Cutler reached the ball toward the goal line. Redskins linebacker London Fletcher alertly punched at it, knocking the ball loose and then falling on it for what officials ruled a fumble.
Replays indicated the ball crossed the plane before Fletcher's punch and should have been a touchdown. Bears coach Lovie Smith, who had just lost a challenge to the spot of the previous play, kept his red flag in his pocket. He said Monday that in hindsight, he wished he had thrown the flag.
And in his weekly Fox Sports column, former NFL officiating chief Mike Pereira wrote that Smith clearly erred: "There were plenty of replays before the Redskins snapped the ball on the next play that showed the ball breaking the plane. I am flummoxed that the Bears would choose to challenge the previous play and not this one. We can talk all day about officiating mistakes and the impact they have on a game, but this was clearly a mistake by Smith and his coaches that may have cost them the game."
The Bears missed on an opportunity to take a 21-10 lead against an opponent that was having trouble scoring against the Bears' defense. And as it turned out, their own offense wouldn't get a better scoring opportunity for the rest of the game. Indeed, it was a decisive moment of the afternoon at Soldier Field.