Turns out the problem wasn't Reid's reluctance to lose a precious timeout early in the third quarter. His staff simply didn't see a conclusive replay in time to tell him to challenge the call because NBC's cameras didn't show quickly enough.
This wasn't the first time this has happened to Philadelphia, either.
On the Eagles' first possession of the second half against the Falcons, Michael Vick's pass intended for Jason Avant was intercepted by Kelvin Hayden near midfield. Hayden made a diving grab, got up and ran two yards before he was tackled.
NBC showed three replays before the Falcons ran their next play, but none made it clear the ball bounced before Hayden caught it. Reid relies mostly on his assistants watching replays in the booth to tell him to challenge if it's not obvious. His staff didn't have reason to dispute Hayden's grab based on the first three replays.
The Falcons needed just two plays to score a touchdown to go up 21-10 on their way to the four-point victory.
During the commercial after the score, a producer watched a fourth replay which showed Hayden didn't make a clean catch. NBC then showed that replay, even though it was too late to change the result. NBC has more cameras for Sunday Night Football than any other network has for a regular-season game. In this case, it didn't help the Eagles.
"There was no replay for us to look at, and I actually had the people from the broadcast apologize, send me an e-mail and apologize on that," Reid explained. "But listen, that's hindsight now."
Avant had a field-level view of the play, and he ran off the field protesting the interception. But Reid wanted confirmation from his eyes in the booth.
"As a receiver, I catch balls in the dirt all the time," Avant said. "One thing that you can tell by is how quickly the guy gets up. If you catch it clean, you get up right away. But he was down on the ground because he was fumbling around with it." The play proved to be a critical one, though other factors, including Vick suffering a concussion, contributed to Philadelphia's loss.
Still, NBC producer Fred Gaudelli apologized to Reid, and issued the following statement the next day.
"Unfortunately, it's somewhat the nature of the replay system," Gaudelli said. "Time just ran out. There were 40 seconds in between the interception and the next play from scrimmage. We were quickly able to show three replays during that span. We didn't have the fourth and conclusive replay until after the Falcons took possession. Even though it could no longer be used for a challenge, we showed that replay because it's our job to get it right. After the game I e-mailed the team because I felt bad that the conclusive play wasn't immediately available."
This wasn't the first time the Eagles were burned by slow cameras.
Last December at New Meadowlands Stadium, DeSean Jackson fumbled following a 30-yard catch and the Giants recovered at midfield. That game was broadcast on Fox. Replays showed the ball came loose after Jackson hit the ground, so it shouldn't have been ruled a fumble. Reid pulled the red flag out, held it in his right hand and waited for an assistant in the booth to tell him to throw it. But they didn't see the conclusive replay quickly enough.
The Eagles rallied furiously to win that game, 38-31, so the play didn't affect the outcome. But this makes two incidents in the last four regular-season games.
"If I have a good angle on it, I'll make that call. And if I get the support from somebody seeing a replay of it, then I'll take that," Reid said. "We've had a couple cases. I mentioned the one last year against the Giants up there, there was no replay, and this one here, there was no replay. And I didn't have a great view of either one. It was one of those things where you have to live with it, man. It's hindsight. So I'm not going to do anything about it now, there's nothing you can do."
The networks say they understand teams rely on them to show the replays, and they emphasize that they're doing the best they can.
"Our goal is to try to offer the definitive look at a key play as quickly as we can provide it," ESPN said in a statement. Fox said the same.
"Our NFL game coverage is produced for the entertainment of fans, and our goal with replays is to run the best angle we see first and go from there given the time available," Fox said in its statement.
The Eagles have had fewer challenges than any other team since Reid became head coach in 1999. Given their recent luck, perhaps Reid should toss that red flag more often.
AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen in New York contributed to this report.