Punter Brett Kern took the snap on fourth-and-2 and ran toward the left boundary where he got walloped by Bucs linebacker Devin White. Kern lost the ball, but referees whistled the play dead, ruling that the Titans got stopped on fourth down. The whistle negated Tampa safety Andrew Adams' return for a touchdown that would have flipped the score.
"Devin being the type of player he is, playing fast, came over, put a good hit on him -- I thought I saw the ball come out, so I picked it up like a fumble and returned it because I thought it was a fumble. But they said they blew the whistle," Adams told ESPN's Jenna Laine.
Head referee Adrian Hill acknowledged the blown whistle ended any chance for a return by the Bucs.
"Certainly after the whistle, we definitely saw a ball come out afterwards, but the ruling on the field was that the runner was down by contact before the ball came out, and that's why the whistle blew. So the whistle was blown because the ruling was 'runner down by contact.'"
"I thought in the NFL, nowadays, they just let the play go through and go back and review it," White said. "I played all the way until the touchdown because I knew the ball came out."
The Bucs got the ball after the fourth-down stop but couldn't find the end zone on either of their final two possessions.
"The inadvertent whistle was a huge, huge play. You pick up a fumble and run it in for a touchdown to win the game, is not good," coach Bruce Arians said.