If two controversial plays had been called correctly, the Houston Oilers would have scored two more touchdowns in Sunday's 16-13 loss to the Washington Redskins, the National Football League told the Oilers yesterday.
A member of the league's officiating department called Coach Hugh Campbell to tell him that cornerback Steve Brown's interception return for an apparent 23-yard touchdown late in the third quarter and receiver Drew Hill's 16-yard catch for an apparent touchdown with 4:16 remaining in the game should have counted, said Oilers spokesman Gregg Stengel.
The NFL made its decisions after reviewing films of the game. They may satisfy curiosity, but they do not affect the outcome of the game.
Brown's return was nullified when safety Keith Bostic was called for an illegal block on quarterback Joe Theismann. Four plays later, Tony Zendejas missed a 42-yard field goal that would have tied the game, 16-16.
The NFL ruled Theismann "purposely turned his back on the play," Stengel said, and said there should have been no call, allowing the touchdown to stand.
After the game, Theismann denied that he moved specifically to try to draw a penalty, and Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs supported him. But Theismann did say of the penalty, "If that's the way I contributed, fine."
If the touchdown had counted, the score would have been 19-16, Houston, before the extra-point attempt with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.
Hill's reception was more complicated. Originally, it was thought the catch was disallowed because Hill did not have both feet inbounds. However, the day after the game, further word indicated the ruling was that Hill did not have possession of the ball before he dragged his feet inbounds.
Jack Reeder, the NFL assistant supervisor of officials, watched the game from the press box and apparently told those around him that possession, not Hill's feet, was the issue.
According to the NFL's review, neither should have been. After members of the officiating department examined the play, they came to the conclusion that Hill had possession and had his feet in bounds.
That was Houston's third-down play. On fourth down, Zendejas' 33-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright and bounced back onto the field with 4:13 to play.
It was the Oilers' last scoring opportunity of the game.
"In other words, we won," Stengel said over the phone, laughing. "But I guess there's not much you can do about it."
Art McNally, NFL director of officials, could not be reached for comment last night, nor could Gibbs.
Jim Heffernan, director of public relations for the league, confirmed a call had been made from the officiating department to Campbell, but said it was league policy not to discuss the conversation.
The Oilers asked the NFL to review a third controversial call from the game but received no answer on it, Stengel said.
With 14:05 to play, just after Zendejas missed his 42-yard field goal, Theismann completed a pass to Art Monk, who appeared to fumble before hitting the ground. Houston recovered the ball near the Washington 35, but the officials said the play had been blown dead.
"They couldn't tell us what happened on that one," Stengel said of the league's review. "Their view was blocked in the films."
The Redskins punted five plays later.
"They told us there were two errors in judgment," Stengel said. "Not that it does much good, but at least we know."
Another Oilers spokesman, Rick Nichols, quickly brushed aside any mention of the controversial calls.
"We have 14 games to play," Nichols said. "We're not dwelling on this."
Earlier in the week, Campbell said he was not in favor of the use of instant replays to decide controversial calls in a game, but added he "was strongly tested on the plane back to Houston."
The NFL experimented with the use of instant replays during preseason games, but there is no indication that they will be used in regular-season games any time soon.
Gibbs said earlier in the week that he couldn't tell what happened on Hill's catch even after looking at game films.
"It was just a tough play," he said.
Gordon McCarter was the referee in the game.
Running back George Rogers, who was in traction with a sprained lower back Monday and Tuesday, returned to practice yesterday and "looked good," Gibbs said.
Rogers, wearing a loose-fitting brace under his jersey, was used in all drills, but not quite as much as usual.
In the team's final offensive workout of the day, Rogers and Keith Griffin each received the same amount of carries, but John Riggins ran twice as much.
"It says a lot about a guy that he would come back and practice so soon," Gibbs said. "I was really surprised how he did today."
But will he play on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles? "If he feels 100 percent, then he plays," Gibbs said.
Rogers isn't so sure. "I don't know if I'll play even if I'm well," he said, adding that missing a game would bother him.
"I think it will. Everyone will be speeding up and I'll slow down. I don't want to go backward."
So Rogers is using his powers of persuasion. Before Gibbs began his post-practice news conference, Rogers shouted, "Hey, Coach Gibbs, play me on Sunday," then walked away laughing.
All other injured Redskins are expected to play. It's likely guard Russ Grimm, who suffered back spasms in the game at Dallas and played only one series against Houston, will play quite a bit, Gibbs said.
Free safety Curtis Jordan, whose sprained left knee apparently was of far greater concern to the Redskins than they indicated on Monday, also practiced and is expected to start as usual.