Hochuli makes questionable call nullifying INT return for TD

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Referee Ed Hochuli was at the center of another questionable call Sunday, flagging Julius Peppers for a roughing-the-passer penalty that wiped out Carolina's interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter against Atlanta.

After Matt Ryan's pass was intercepted by Richard Marshall, Hochuli threw a flag and announced Peppers made a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ryan. It erased the touchdown and gave the Falcons a first down on a drive that ended with a punt.

Replays showed Peppers made contact as Ryan released the ball, and appeared to hit him first with his shoulder.

"Ed came over and explained to me, he said that I hit him with my helmet," Peppers said. "He said I hit him with my helmet in his head and that's what he called. It wasn't really roughing, late hit. It was just my helmet hit his helmet, so it was just one of those calls that, you know, player safety is what that was about.

"I'm not trying to hit him with my helmet. I'm not trying to hurt him, but you know, it's football so I'm going for the tackle so helmets are going to get hit sometimes."

Fans booed loudly when the play was shown on the video boards at Bank of America Stadium, and Carolina coach John Fox said after the game that was the only footage he'd seen of the play.

"I can't comment, No. 1. But No. 2, I didn't really see it," Fox said. "I saw the replay, and I wasn't real fond of it then."

Two weeks ago, Hochuli's missed call helped Denver's comeback 39-38 win over San Diego.

Denver quarterback Jay Cutler dropped back to pass, the ball slipped from his hand and a San Diego player recovered. But Hochuli, who has refereed two Super Bowls, ruled it an incomplete pass. He later admitted it was the wrong call.

Denver retained possession, scored a touchdown and then won with a successful 2-point conversion.