NFL wild-card: Bills lose last challenge on questionable replay decision on Steelers fumble

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 15: Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is pressured by Ed Oliver #91 of the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
The Steelers appeared to get a favorable call during Monday's wild-card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The Buffalo Bills appeared to have forced their second turnover Monday, but officials thought otherwise on a questionable replay decision that cost Buffalo its last challenge of the day.

The play took place early in the first quarter with Buffalo leading the wild-card game, 14-0. Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph found tight end Pat Freiermuth for a 33-yard gain on the first play of a possession that started at Pittsburgh's 8-yard line.

Freiermuth fumbled the ball when he was tackled, and Bills linebacker Baylon Spector jumped on it for a recovery. But officials ruled that the ball was fumbled forward out of bounds.

Buffalo challenged the call, and replay showed that Spector clearly recovered the ball in bounds. But officials didn't agree.

Referee Carl Cheffers announced after the replay review that "the ruling on the field stands as called." He didn't offer any further explanation for how officials determined that the ball went out of bounds.

The only possible explanation is that officials believed the loose ball grazed Freiermuth's helmet as his body bounced out of bounds. But nothing conclusive on replay shows that, and it's doubtful that an official could have made that determination in real time.

The challenge was Buffalo's second of the day and therefore its last. The Bills challenged an earlier Steelers fumble that officials incorrectly called an incomplete pass on the field. Officials overturned that call in Buffalo's favor, but not the second. Both challenges have to be successful in order for a team to receive a third.

Thankfully for the Bills, the decision didn't hurt them on the field in their 31-17 win.

Kaiir Elam intercepted Rudolph in the end zone to conclude the Steelers drive as Buffalo eventually got its forced turnover.

The Bills converted the turnover into an 80-yard drive capped by a 52-yard Josh Allen touchdown scramble.

The score extended Buffalo's lead to 21-0.