Was the incomplete pass to Dane Sanzenbacher, with 2:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, incomplete or a backwards lateral? The broadcast didn't provide a definitive look. There were no replays and the crack-staff of Chris Myers and Ronde Barber didn't even bring up the possibility. Essentially, we've been resorted to fans of Lost... of the first season.
First of all, a backwards pass. Per the NFL rule book:
Any pass not forward is regarded as a backward pass. A pass parallel to the line is a backward pass. A runner may pass backward at any time. A backward pass that strikes the ground can be recovered and advanced by either team. A backward pass caught in the air can be advanced by either team. A backward pass in flight may not be batted forward by an offensive player.
Let me get this straight. Any pass not traveling forward is regarded as backwards? I suppose that makes sense. Actually, I'd like to know the circumstances that required the rule book writers to clarify this rule with that description. The other key point here is that if a backward pass hits the ground, it's essentially a fumble.
Since the broadcast sits at an angle, we can't judge with any specificity. Sure it appears that Dalton releases the football near the 27-yard line (the football location, not his feet). More the 26 and three-quarters line. Maybe on the 27. You can't tell with these angles.
The football landed roughly in the same area - though Luke Kuechly blocked the view anyway.
We unleashed the coaches tape and thanks to 21st century technology, we actually don't have a camera looking down the line of scrimmage.
It appears that Dalton releases closer to the 26, and that the football lands at like the 27.25 yard line.
And look at the official's reaction. We get that he's probably assigned other specific tasks, but he's clearly reacting as if it's a fumble -- and don't give me that "he's not on the line of scrimmage" crap. There is literally no one else that's more powerful on the field right now. If he says it's a fumble, it's a fumble.
Ah, screw it. We can't tell and no one cares any more.