Monday Night’s Controversy
On Monday Night Football the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers played each other in a battle for top spot in the NFC North. The game ended with the Packers winning 23-22 due to a dramatic last second kick by Mason Crosby. If you’re a Packers fan, it’s great, however, fans of every other team were left scratching their heads. There were three bad calls by the referees last night all in the fourth quarter. These were not ticky-tacky questionable calls you can argue either way. They were the wrong calls.
The first one was a blatant pass interference, although not egregious, on the Packers that was missed. Lions receiver Marvin Jones jumped up to grab the ball, and Green Bay’s cornerback had his arm across Jones’ chest before the ball got there.
The second and third calls were even more outrageous. They were both the same penalty, on the same player, on third down. The referees flagged Lion’s defensive end Trey Flowers for illegal use of hands twice, neither of which were the correct call. His hand was clearly on the left tackle, David
Bakhtiari’s shoulder pads, which is not a penalty at all. In the NFL, illegal hands to face on the defense constitutes a five-yard penalty and a first down. This gave Green Bay a chance to milk the clock and kick the game winning field goal with no time remaining.
This is Not the First Time This Year.
I would not be writing this article if this was just one game when the referees, at the very least, disrupted the final outcome of the game. I will not say definitively that the result of the Packers and Lions game would have been different, but the Lions could have gotten the ball back with over a minute to play and an opportunity to go down and win.
It’s not even the first time this year that a game changing call was made. In week two, the Saints recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown against the Rams—or so they thought. The play was blown dead and ruled an incomplete pass. In the NFL, you can challenge fumbles, which is what Saints Coach Sean Payton did. While after reviewing the play, the Saints were rewarded with the fumble, the touchdown didn’t count. The Saints did not end up scoring on the ensuing drive. I think since the score was 27-9 it wouldn’t have made a difference in who won the game, but it still shouldn’t be a missed call.
The Worst of Them All
Last season in the NFC Championship Game, the Saints and Rams were playing for the right to be in the Super Bowl, when late in the game a ball thrown to Tommylee Lewis was incomplete.
Why was the pass incomplete? Because Rams Cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman tackled Lewis before he had a chance to catch it. The call, or no call in this case, was so horrible that people were trying to sue the NFL and even wanted a rematch. The Saints would have been able to run the clock down and kick the game winning field goal with no time left, rather than handing the ball back to the Rams and giving them a chance to tie and send it to overtime.
Rule Changes and Gray Area in the NFL
One logical reason as to why officiating continuously seems to be poor and sometimes decide games, is because of rule changes, and gray areas when it comes to the rules. In baseball, what constitutes as an out, or a home run is clearly defined. There’s very little room for interpretation. It is either an out, or the runner is safe. For home runs, it’s clearly a home run or a foul ball. Of course, there are still bad calls in baseball, but not nearly at the rate of the NFL. The league has had to rewrite various rules.
After Dez Bryant’s 2014 “catch or no catch” call, the league decided to change the ruling of the catch multiple times, and oftentimes it’s nearly impossible for the casual fan to understand. The NFL targeting rule is another that comes to mind. It is illegal to hit a defenseless runner or receiver in the neck or head area. What constitutes as being defenseless? That term is too subjective to be used. Roughing the passer is another controversial rule, where one week a quarterback gets hit after a throw and they don’t call it, especially for mobile quarterbacks. And then there’s instances like in the Chiefs-Patriots AFC Championship Game last season where the quarterback is barely touched and it’s a 15-yard penalty.
New and Inexperienced Crews
Long time referees like Ed Hochuli, Gene Steratore and Pete Morelli retired over the past few years. This created a surge in younger officiating crews. This can cause issues with how certain plays should be called. Another aspect is how many penalties are being called during an average game. Ten years ago, the average penalties per game were 11.8. Today there are around 15 penalties per game. That is an average of 125 yards per game worth of penalties. It makes the game of football confusing and hard to watch for the casual fan. Player safety is the most important part of the game, and I agree with many of the rules put in place. But there’s no reason to call out every minor infraction. If it is an obvious foul, call it. If you can’t tell if it is a penalty or not as an official, then it probably isn’t.
Bad officiating sadly is part of every sport or game. It doesn’t matter the sport, there will always be questionable, and even obscenely bad, calls by the referees. They are humans and can’t see everything going on in real time. However, the goal is to improve this issue, and not regress. I feel as if the NFL is regressing backwards when it comes to officiating, while basketball, hockey, and baseball are moving forward and making the right improvements to their respective sport. It becomes intolerable to enjoy the sport of football as a fan if there are obsessive amounts of penalties and wrongly called fouls. It is even worse when it impacts the outcome of the contest.