By Ben Austro, FootballZebras.com, special to NFP

Referee Carl Cheffers and his crew ruled it a touchdown when it really should not have, even though it really should have been.

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams ran down the sideline for an apparent touchdown, but line judge Tom Symonette, a ninth year official, blew the play dead erroneously. It is the bane of refereedom: the inadvertent whistle. It rarely happens, but when it does, it is a huge mistake. It is further compounded by the fact that there is no equitable remedy for the error.

Cheffers gathered the crew, including Symonette, to determine where Williams was when the play was whistled dead. They also knew that the replay official could not come in to correct an inadvertent whistle by rule.

“By the time the whistle blew, [Williams] had already crossed the goal line,” Cheffers told a pool reporter following the game. “That was our decision, and that’s why I announced that the ruling on the field is touchdown.”

An NFL spokeman says that should not have been the ruling. “The Panthers were incorrectly awarded a touchdown following [the] inadvertent whistle.”

Even though there might be the urge to correct the error by awarding the seemingly inevitable touchdown, the rulebook says otherwise.

“By rule, Carolina should have been given a choice of putting the ball in play where Williams was ruled to have stepped out of bounds – 1st-and-10 from the Washington 17-yard-line – or replaying the down – 1st-and-10 from the Washington 30,” according to the league statement.

“Because all scoring plays are automatically reviewed, the play was confirmed as a touchdown by instant replay official Charles Stewart. By rule, Stewart was not able to intercede with regard to the inadvertent whistle. He confirmed that the runner, Williams, was never out of bounds.”

And here is the real troubling part. In order to atone for the inadvertent whistle, Cheffers crew tried to find the equitable resolution rather than a rules-based resolution. Symonette knew where Williams was on the field, give or take a couple of yards, when he raised his hands over his head. He should have come clean to his fellow crew members that he was certain, no matter how unpopular the decision, that Williams was short of the goal line by rule. In fact, the entire crew is equally responsible for a misapplication of the rules, and if just one other official saw where the ball should have been spotted, he is duty bound to report it, even if he is the only one.

Now, the cardinal sin of officiating in the inadvertent whistle by Symonette is now vastly overshadowed by his attempt to cover it up.

Ben Austro is the founder and editor of FootballZebras.com.  Follow him on Twitter: @footballzebras