In an email to the Tennessean, NFL vice president of football communications Michael Signora explained that a miscommunication between the officials and the Rams' sideline is the reason why the officials didn't allow the Titans to keep the football after their surprise onside kick.
"The officials inadvertently miscommunicated to the Los Angeles sideline that it was a full timeout instead of a 30-second timeout" following Murray's touchdown, Signora wrote. "When L.A. was not ready for the kickoff due to the miscommunication, the officials decided to shut it down and allow for a re-kick."
The sequence began when Titans running back DeMarco Murray scored a touchdown to tie the game at 20-20 with 4:23 remaining in the third quarter. When the Titans lined up for the ensuing kickoff, they saw that the Rams weren't ready. So, they surprised them with an onside kick. It was so surprising that Fox's cameras even missed it.
After the Titans recovered the ball, the officials huddled before announcing that the Rams had used their first timeout prior to the kick. They did not announce why they threw a flag.
The camera then flashed over to Rams coach Sean McVay, whose expression indicated that he did not call a timeout.
The officials then announced that McVay actually never called timeout. Instead, they determined that the ball was never put in play. On the re-kick, the Titans booted it deep this time around before forcing a punt. The Titans kicked a field goal to take a 23-20 lead. They ended up losing 27-23.
So, the negated onside kick ultimately wasn't the reason for the Titans' loss, but that probably won't make the Titans feel any better about the outcome. According to Titans kicker Ryan Succop, he saw the play clock moving and he watched the referee give him a signal that the play was ready to begin.
"Obviously, the referee always tells me, 'Wait till we blow the whistle,'" Succop said, per the Tennessean. "And he put the ball down, I saw him give the signal like it was a live ball, and I even looked and saw the play clock counting down. And credit our guys, they did a great job.
"We saw (the Rams) weren't out there and thought we had an opportunity to onside kick it. And I thought our guys did a great job staying onside. We recovered the ball. And I'm not sure about the ruling. I don't know what happened there. But it's unfortunate. … I thought it seemed like it should have been our ball, and for whatever reason it wasn't."
Signora refused to say if the officials would be disciplined for their mistake.
"Every play of every game is evaluated, both for calls that are made and those that are not made," he wrote. "This also includes an evaluation of game administration, such as this situation."
The Titans are now 8-7 and face a must-win game against the Jaguars. If they win, they'll qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008. If they lose, they'll have blown an 8-4 start to the season by dropping their final four games. The officials might not face repercussions for their mistake on Sunday, but the Titans' coaching staff likely will if they fail to make the playoffs.