POSTED AT 12:00 AM ET, 01/11/2010
One play, two blown calls
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In the most entertaining playoff game of the weekend, officials made one completely baffling call and badly missed another, both on the same play.
That instance of highly suspect officiating came with two and a half minutes left in the third quarter of Arizona's 51-45 victory over visiting Green Bay on Sunday night. The result of the play was Larry Fitzgerald's one-handed touchdown catch to extend the Cardinals' lead to 38-24, but it should not have counted.
Replays clearly showed Fitzgerald running into Packers cornerback Charles Woodson near the goal line and knocking him down. With Woodson on the ground, Fitzgerald was open in the end zone and dove for the catch.
While officials did not throw a flag for what was a clear case of offensive pass interference, they instead penalized the Packers for roughing the Cardinals' Kurt Warner on a call Fox analyst Troy Aikman called "horrible," adding he could not disagree more with the penalty.
The personal foul was against defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who appeared to have been held on the play. Jenkins was so sure the call would be holding that he was spotted celebrating even though Fitzgerald had just caught the touchdown.
Replays showed Jenkins was shoved into Warner. Jenkins's hand came across Warner's facemask while he was being blocked to the ground, which probably caused officials to call the erroneous penalty.
Officials who get the best ratings during the regular season are awarded playoff assignments, so the fact this crew missed two calls on one play is particularly troubling, and obviously it impacted the game since the winning margin was six points.
We can only hope there won't be any repeats during the remainder of the postseason. What a shame if that happened on, say, the final snap of the Super Bowl.
POSTED AT 6:00 AM ET, 01/ 4/2010
Puzzling no call on White hit
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While the NFL has issued plenty of pronouncements in recent years regarding disciplinary action against players leading with their helmet, one of the most visually disturbing collisions of the season went unpenalized during Sunday's Steelers-Dolphins game.
The hit occurred as Miami's Pat White turned to the left boundary after a moderate gain. White was heading to the sideline as linebacker Lawrence Timmons grabbed him by the foot, causing the backup quarterback to trip and begin falling out of bounds.
As White continued to the ground, Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor came in head-first to finish the tackle. The violent helmet-to-helmet hit left White motionless for a few moments, and as Taylor walked away looking a bit woozy himself, safety Tyrone Carter rushed to congratulate his teammate for the knockout blow.
Meantime, as a cart quickly arrived to remove White from the field, Dolphins fans were left to wonder why no flag. Clearly Taylor led with his helmet, and according to NFL mandates, players who do so are subject to ejection if the violation is deemed flagrant.
No one is suggesting the hit was premeditated, but replays showed unequivocally Taylor lowering his head while hitting a defenseless player. Isn't that the exact violation the league seeks to enforce without exception?
"Actions that involve flagrant helmet to helmet contact are the likely acts that will include disqualification," Mike Pereira, the NFL's supervisor of officials, wrote in a memo sent to all NFL teams in 2006, according to a report by the Associated Press. "Our commissioner and this office remain very focused on the safety of our players."
Tell that to White, who had air rescue called just in case but was transported by ground to Broward General Hospital. White apparently will be okay, but that does nothing to diminish the clear violation of league rules regarding helmet-to-helmet impacts.
"I told him, 'hope you feel better, man,'" Taylor said. "You never want to see a guy down like that. He kept repeating, 'Thanks,' and I just kept telling him to get better."
NFL officials need to do the same in penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits. If officials don't become more vigilant on this issue, players will continue to use their helmet as a weapon, and the results could be memory-related disorders, as some former players have experienced in retirement, paralysis or even loss of life.
Let's hope the league takes the strongest stand possible before it comes to that.
POSTED AT 4:54 PM ET, 12/21/2009
No touching in football?
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One of the worst calls of the season came in Sunday's Dolphins-Titans game, and it had a direct impact on the outcome of a matchup with significant playoff implications.
The game had gone into overtime, and Miami quarterback Chad Henne dropped back to pass on third down and six from his 27-yard line. His pass was poorly thrown, and safety Michael Griffin secured the easy interception and returned it three yards to the Miami 42, where he dropped to the ground and covered the ball.
That's when Dolphins wide receiver Greg Camarillo dove at Griffin and touched him down. Camarillo didn't go for the head or even hit Griffin hard. He simply patted Griffin with both hands to make sure he stayed on the ground to end the play.
Officials flagged Camarillo for unnecessary roughness because Griffin was presumed to have been down at the time he voluntarily went to the turf. That penalty set up the Titans at the Miami 27, and four plays later, Rob Bironas made a 46-yard field goal for a 27-24 victory.
The penalty was ridiculous, plain and simple. Honestly, the NFL has become so protective of players that you sometimes wonder why they bother to wear pads in the first place.
Perhaps by the strictest interpretation of the rules, Griffin was in fact down. You could argue Griffin falling to the turf was the same act as a quarterback sliding to give himself up or kneeling to end a game.
Even so, Camarillo barely touched Griffin, and he certainly did not do so with malicious intent. The fact that officials called a penalty in no way falls in line with the spirit of the rule, and if anything, Camarillo made the smart play.
What if Griffin had decided to get up and run after he went down? He certainly would have been allowed, since to that point, no Dolphins player had touched him down.
The penalty was a clear case of over-officiating and basically gave the Titans three points, since Bironas is one of the most dependable place kickers in the league.
Tennessee may have won, but the officials deserve a game ball from the Titans as much as any player or coach in the organization after that debacle.
POSTED AT 7:27 AM ET, 12/14/2009
Poor timing by officials
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The Philadelphia Eagles took control of the NFC East on Sunday night with a 45-38 victory over the New York Giants in a game filled with questionable calls. Among the most glaring was a timing lapse just before halftime that prevented the Eagles possibly from scoring.
After Michael Vick's one-yard touchdown run gave Philadelphia a 30-17 lead 16 seconds before intermission, Giants returner Domenik Hixon ran the ensuing kickoff to the 33-yard line and fumbled. The Eagles' Moise Fokou recovered at the 32 with two seconds to play, but officials allowed time to expire.
That sequence was reminiscent of the Big 12 championship game between Texas and Nebraska, when trailing at the end of the game, Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy scrambled and threw the ball out of bounds as time expired. But officials reviewed the play and determined there should be one second left on the clock, and Texas kicked a field goal to win and save its national championship hopes.
Even the play-by-play announcers on CBS Radio invoked comparisons of the lost time in the Eagles-Giants game to that of the Big 12 championship.
But because the play occurred in the final two minutes of the half, Eagles Coach Andy Reid was not allowed to challenge. League rules stipulate in the final two minutes of each half and in overtime, only the replay assistant in the television booth or press box can call for a video review. That never happened, and the Eagles were cheated out of at least attempting a long field goal.
That clock issue did not wind up costing the Eagles, as they improved to 9-4 with a one-game lead over Dallas. But what if Philadelphia had lost to the Giants by two points?
The larger issue is how officials permitted two seconds to tick off the game clock, even when it may have seemed meaningless at the time. Even one second can be the difference between winning and losing, and when the stakes are as high as they were in Sunday's Eagles-Giants game, managing the clock correctly becomes all the more important.
POSTED AT 12:14 PM ET, 12/ 7/2009
New replay rule dooms Redskins
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As if the season could get any worse for the Washington Redskins, they found another improbable way to lose. In this instance, the blunder came in overtime, when fullback Mike Sellers fumbled, and New Orleans recovered at the Redskins 36.
Seven plays later, place kicker Garrett Hartley's 18-yard field goal gave the Saints a 33-30 win. It was a stunning conclusion considering the Redskins led by 10 points with 4 minutes 44 seconds to play in regulation and had outplayed New Orleans virtually all game.
Initially officials said Sellers was down, meaning the Redskins would keep the ball. But before Washington could get off the next snap, Saints Coach Sean Payton called timeout. That stoppage allowed the replay official to review the sequence and, after a lengthy delay, determined Sellers had lost the ball before he was down.
Angry Redskins fans began flooding Internet message boards, including plenty of comments on washingtonpost.com, charging officials with a huge gaffe by awarding New Orleans the ball. Some posters even went so far as to say the game was fixed.
Those conspiracy theorists apparently thought since the play was blown dead, it was not reviewable by rule. They were wrong.
If Redskins fans want to blame the officiating, they have no gripe against referee Carl Cheffers and his crew, who made the right call on the Sellers fumble. They instead should curse Ed Hochuli, whose officiating mistake in a San Diego-Denver game in 2008 initiated a rule change for this season allowing video replays on loose balls or interceptions even if the play was whistled dead.
Officials in the Saints-Redskins game did make a puzzling call early in the second quarter when they whistled New Orleans tight end Jeremy Shockey for pass interference.
Replays showed no defenders near Shockey until he made the reception and was tackled from behind by safety LaRon Landry, who appeared to grasp Shockey's facemask. At the very least, Landry wrapped his hand around the side of Shockey's helmet, which also would warrant a penalty.
The apparent missed call on the Landry-Shockey play was another case of phantom pass interference. You've seen it many times. It's when an official inexplicably throws a flag for pass interference, yet from every replay angle, there's absolutely zero indication the infraction took place.
Perhaps the league should take that up during its next round of rules changes. No doubt coaches, players and fans alike would applaud the NFL if it considered making pass interference a challengeable call.
POSTED AT 3:03 AM ET, 11/30/2009
Officials pass on interference calls
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The most disputed and controversial call in professional football is pass interference, probably because it's the determination by officials that can most drastically alter the complexion of game. After all, it's the only penalty that technically can award a team 99 yards.
What also irks many players, coaches and fans is the inconsistency of pass interference calls. It can be so arbitrary that in one game a blatant pass interference will go unpenalized while in another game, an official will call it if a defender barely brushes a wide receiver. That's better known as phantom pass interference.
Across the league on Sunday, pass interference calls appeared on the rise. The league has taken steps to make the game more offense-friendly, so defensive backs know the challenges they face, especially when they have to play against marquee quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Then there was the uneven officiating in Sunday night's Steelers-Ravens game in which Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor at first seemed to have immunity from pass interference when covering Derrick Mason.
The most glaring example came early in the fourth quarter, when Mason was trying to run under a pass in the end zone. The pass went over Mason's head, but replays showed Taylor grabbing Mason's arm and preventing him from making a play on the ball. Officials did not call a penalty.
But late in the game, officials flagged Taylor for illegal contact and pass interference on the same play. In this instance, Taylor bumped Mason more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage before using his arm to impede Mason's path to the ball on a sideline pattern.
If officials want to call a tight game when it comes to pass interference, that's fine. If they want to let the players bump and push a bit more than the rules perhaps allow, that's great too.
Most of us can settle for either, just as long as there's consistency so players on both teams know how much they can get away with and adjust their play accordingly.
POSTED AT 3:54 AM ET, 11/23/2009
Delay of game on officials
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In a court of law, where the accused has the right to a fair and speedy trail, the actions of officials during Sunday's Washington-Dallas game wouldn't be tolerated.
The call in question came at the end of the first half, when Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was flushed out of the pocket on second down and one, ran for the sideline and released the ball before stepping out of bounds at the Dallas 25-yard line.
Officials, however, initially ruled Campbell had stepped out of bounds before releasing the ball. Because the Redskins had snapped the ball from the 20, the result of the play was a sack.
Then the Redskins failed to snap the ball before the play clock ran out on third down, drawing a delay of game and pushing them back to the 30.
After officials assessed the delay of game, they halted play so the replay assistant in the official's booth could review whether Campbell had released the ball before stepping out.
Approximately seven minutes later, officials concluded correctly Campbell had gotten rid of the ball before his foot touched the boundary, thus Washington should have possession at the 20 and face third down and one.
During this entire episode, Redskins place kicker Shaun Suisham patiently waited to attempt a field goal. The 39-yard try sailed well left, and Washington failed to add to its 3-0 lead before halftime.
"That's no excuse to miss a kick," Suisham said. "It's different, yes, but it's certainly no reason to miss."
The lengthy delay certainly wasn't the only reason Suisham missed the kick, but it no doubt was a factor. Imagine a golfer having to wait that long to attempt a five-foot putt to extend his lead at a PGA Tour event.
Suisham's miss proved significant because the Redskins wound up losing 7-6. In this instance, officials got the call right -- that was the fair part of the trial. But it's entirely reasonable to ask why officials took so long to reach their ruling.
POSTED AT 7:27 AM ET, 11/16/2009
Believe it or not: Officials admit error
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Rarely do officials make public statements about missed calls, but in Sunday's Dallas at Green Bay game, they did just that. What's more, referee Jeff Triplette conceded he had made a mistake.
The call in question came with 12 minutes to play and the Cowboys trailing, 10-0. Quarterback Tony Romo fumbled on a blitz by cornerback Charles Woodson, and running back Felix Jones appeared to roll onto the ball for the recovery before defensive tackle Johnny Jolly ripped it out of his grasp.
Linebacker Clay Matthews finally recovered at the 3-yard line, and the Packers scored soon thereafter for a 17-0 lead.
Cowboys Coach Wade Phillips threw his challenge flag after the recovery, and officials began the review process. Turns out the challenge should not have been allowed in the first place because league rules stipulate recovery of a loose ball in the field of play is not reviewable.
"It was my mistake to allow [Phillips] to start the challenge," Triplette told a pool reporter. "I should have just talked him out of it before we started."
How refreshing is that? Hearing an official actually admit fault is about as rare as Adam Vinatieri missing a clutch kick.
Now a year later, it's happened again. Maybe accountability finally is becoming part of the officials handbook. Regardless, Triplette deserves a pat on the back for speaking about the call when he didn't have to, thus proving officials actually can be human on occasion.
POSTED AT 1:13 AM ET, 11/ 9/2009
QB overprotection, again
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Officials in Sunday's Washington-Atlanta game called the Redskins twice for personal fouls after hits on quarterback Matt Ryan. While both infractions cost Washington 15 yards, only one appeared warranted.
That was the call 50 seconds before halftime, when defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander got to Ryan -- who had gotten rid of the ball -- on third down and three. Alexander wrapped his arms around Ryan, and both players went to the ground.
Officials called roughing the passer, based on what at the time looked like Alexander driving Ryan to the ground. But go around the league on Sunday, and I'll bet you'll see many similar plays officials deemed clean.
In this instance, Alexander did not lead with his helmet. He did not toss Ryan down. The play in no way seemed malicious, yet officials called it as such. If falling on top of the quarterback were grounds for roughing, you might as well make it illegal to tackle the passer.
Hitting the quarterback late and out of bounds is another story, and officials appropriately whistled LaRon Landry for a personal foul after the Redskins safety was guilty of both three plays before the call against Alexander.
On that play, Ryan had run out of bounds when Landry delivered a blow along the Falcons sideline. The late hit caused plenty of pushing and shoving, including a heated exchange between Atlanta Coach Mike Smith and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who used to play for the Falcons.
The Falcons had every right to be upset as they watched their franchise quarterback absorb a blow out of bounds. That Landry, notorious for late hits, was the culprit made the call that much more elementary for the officials.
POSTED AT 12:20 AM ET, 11/ 2/2009
A Giant Miss
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Officials made one of the most puzzling calls of the season during Philadelphia's 40-17 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday. Although the ruling did not directly affect the outcome, it provided yet another opportunity for football fans to debate questionable officiating and to wonder if replay really does make a difference.
In case you missed it, quarterback Donovan McNabb fumbled as he was being sacked in the third quarter, and defensive tackle Fred Robbins picked up the ball and began running. After 11 yards, Robbins lateraled to teammate Osi Umenyiora, who ran the remaining 37 yards for a touchdown.
Eagles Coach Andy Reid challenged the call that McNabb had fumbled, and after officials viewed the play, they determined while McNabb did indeed fumble, Robbins's lateral was actually an illegal forward pass. Thus the touchdown was overturned, and the Giants wound up with possession at the Eagles 42. That drive ended in a field goal to cut the deficit to 33-10.
Repeated television replays appeared to show the lateral was legal, but inexplicably, officials didn't see it that way. That's what made this particular judgment so frustrating.
It just goes to show even replay can be fallible because, after all, humans are still involved in the decision-making process.
POSTED AT 5:31 AM ET, 10/26/2009
Officials Fumble This One
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Most of the time an apparent missed call doesn't affect the outcome of a game directly. That wasn't the case in Sunday's Saints-Dolphins thriller at Land Shark Stadium.
The Dolphins had built what seemed a comfortable 24-10 lead -- although virtually no lead is completely safe against the high-powered Saints -- when in the third quarter, New Orleans safety Darren Sharper intercepted Chad Henne and scored on a 42-yard return.
As Sharper got inside the 3-yard line, he began to lose control of the ball. But officials ruled touchdown, an indication they believed Sharper had broken the plane of the goal line before fumbling out of the end zone.
The Dolphins challenged the call, arguing Sharper lost the ball before crossing the goal line and that the play should be ruled a touchback. When they lost the challenge, the Saints had trimmed the deficit to seven, and they rode that momentum to outscore Miami 29-10 the rest of the way to stay undefeated.