After looking at the television tape in regular speed, slow motion and freeze frame, Jerry Seeman, the NFL director of officials, said he couldn't tell conclusively whether Aikman's arm was moving forward when Washington Redskins defensive lineman Jason Buck knocked the ball loose.
"Based on the TV tape, which is all we have right now, he [Seeman] felt it was too close to call," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.
The officials on the field called it a fumble instead of an incomplete pass and after Emmitt Smith picked up the ball and tossed it while being tackled, Danny Copeland recovered for the winning touchdown in the Redskins' 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
It was no surprise that the Cowboys and Redskins had different opinions on the play yesterday.
In addition to deeming the Aikman ruling a bad call, the Cowboys also said Smith should have been called down for a safety before he pitched the ball.
Aiello said Smith "may have been down," but officials will look at NFL Films shots of the play today, because they couldn't be sure looking at the tape.
The NFL rejected the Cowboys' opinion that if he wasn't down, his toss should have been called a safety for pitching the ball to avoid a tackle in the end zone. Aiello said "the back of his hand hit the ground when the ball popped out" so it was definitely a fumble if he wasn't down.
"I am unable to comment except to clarify the rules," Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said after talking to NFL officials three times yesterday. "But this loss was the hardest I've had since I've been coach of the Cowboys."
The Cowboys, who oppose instant replay, said they're still opposed despite that play and it's likely a replay official would have said the Aikman play was inconclusive. There's a chance, though, that a replay official might have ruled Smith down.
Johnson said he doesn't like replay because it interrupts the flow of the game. The Redskins, who've always favored replay, defended the call.
"No question," said Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Redskins' defense. "That's what Aikman said. There's the guy who ought to know. That's good enough for me."
Aikman said he was trying to pull the ball back, although it was unclear whether he actually did before Buck hit his arm.
"Darrell [Green] had great coverage [on the Cowboys' Michael Irvin] and he [Aikman] went to throw it and he realized it wasn't there and pulled it back and it looked like his back motion got hit," Petitbon said. "If you look at it quick, it looks like it's going forward. But that's really not the case."
Petitbon also said he didn't think Smith was down and he didn't know about the rule that a player who pitches the ball from the end zone to avoid a tackle is called for a safety.
"That's what they've got officials for. They've got all that stuff figured out," Petitbon said.
Petitbon said he was most upset at Copeland for running 30 yards downfield with the ball after he picked it out of the pile.
"I just wish he would have stayed in the end zone so the officials know he had the ball," he said. "That's scary, man. He should just sit there and show the ball to the official."
Copeland stood with the ball in one hand while most of the officials were looking through the pile of players for the ball. But one official, Tony Veteri, said he saw Copeland grab it.
Monte Coleman also ran to Copeland and told him to go back to the end zone.
Petitbon also defended Johnson on his decision to throw from the end zone on second-and-seven at the Cowboys' 5 with 3:25 left. The way the Redskins' offense was sputtering, they might not have scored if the Cowboys had run the ball and ended up punting.
But Petitbon said: "That was the way to go. He had to get it out of there."
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs didn't watch the defensive films yesterday, so he had no view of the play, but he said he's ready to match the Cowboys if they want to complain about calls. He said the officials were wrong when they called offensive tackle Jim Lachey for holding in the second quarter and for calling Gary Clark out of the end zone on a third-period catch.
"From our films, he was dragging his foot," Gibbs said. "That was a touchdown."