Officially Replacing the Fun

I know that I addressed this topic as part of my last post, but it bears mentioning again with some deeper discussion. The NFL must get the regular officials back on the field immediately, if not sooner. Let me preface the rest of this discussion by mentioning a couple of things first. First, I generally do not like overly criticizing officiating in sports, especially in the immediate aftermath of your team losing a game. It just comes across as sour grapes. The other thing is that I am in no way saying that the officials cost the New England Patriots the game last night against the Baltimore Ravens. Now, having made those points clear, the officiating in that game last night, and the league in general, has reached embarrassing levels of ineptitude. It was inept in both directions, but it was thoroughly inept from start to finish. I don’t have the patience or stamina in my fingers to go over every awful aspect of the officiating in last night’s game, but I will mention some of the ones that stood out.

On Saturday, the NFL Player’s Association wrote a letter to the league imploring them to get the regular officials back. One of the major issues cited was a concern for player safety. Patriot wide receiver Julian Edelman was attempting to make a catch in the endzone last night and Raven safety Ed Reed clearly struck Edelman in the head to break the play up. This should have been a no-brainer penalty and it went uncalled. This has been so emphasized in the NFL over the last couple of years, and for good reason. Hits like this must be removed from the game. To miss such an obvious one is ridiculous. I would fully expect the league to fine Reed for the hit. I was almost surprised when, later in the game, they actually did throw a flag on Reed for a similar hit on Deion Branch. The latter collision was so violent-looking that they really had no choice but to call it.

It was clear from the start of the game that the officials were going to have zero control over the game. The two teams were very chippy early and it seemed that there was a scrum after almost every play. The referees were almost afraid to throw a flag on any of it. Then, as if they were contacted after the first quarter and told to get in under control, they started calling every little thing that they could possibly find to call. It completely destroyed any flow the game could possibly have, and penalized players for things that had no business being called. I don’t think I’ve ever seen defensive holding called as much in one game as was called last night. The teams combined for 24 accepted penalties in the game. That’s not counting any that were called an declined. First downs were awarded on 13 of the penalties, which set an NFL record. According to the box score, the teams combined for 61 first downs. So, that means that nearly a quarter of the first downs in the game were gained via penalty.

On a punt by the Ravens, the Patriots were called for lining up offside. Baltimore accepted the penalty and elected to tack on the yards at the end of the return. Problem is, you don’t have that option on an offside call. You can accept and replay the down or decline it and take the result of the play. So, they announce the decision, go to commercial, and when we come back, Baltimore is lined up to punt again and the situation is explained. Sure, they got the call right in the end, but it’s a basic procedural situation. These officials do not know NFL rules. Apparently, the replay officials in the booth (who are the regular replay officials) will notify a guy on the sidelines if the officials screw some procedure up. It’s asinine.

I could go on and on and talk about the obvious offensive pass interference that wasn’t called on Torrey Smith on his second touchdown reception, or the one that was called on Edelman as he was knocked to the ground by a defender, or the officials granting John Harbaugh a measurement on a spot that was originally ruled at least a yard short of a first down which allowed time to see replays that convinced him to challenge the spot, but you get the point by now. This all happened during a week where an official tossed his hat to denote a player going out of bounds and it landed in the path of the player causing him to trip and fall down. This all happened during a week where officials came out of a review and marked off a 15-yard penalty from the wrong spot on the field, giving a team 12 extra yards in a drive in overtime that turned out to be the game-winning drive. This is inexcusable on the NFL’s part. And it is removing the enjoyment out of watching these games.

After last night’s game, we should be talking about the amazing performance that Torrey Smith had less than 24 hours after learning that his brother had died in an accident. We should be talking about how the Ravens made key plays down the stretch to win an important game. We should be talking about how the Patriot defense reverted to last year’s form against a good team when it mattered the most. We should be talking about how the Patriot offense couldn’t make a play when it needed to seal a victory. We aren’t talking about any of those things. We’re talking about the officials, the ones who should have the least involvement in the outcome of the game. Across the league, that’s what everyone is talking about. The officials are the story. That will not change until the NFL gets its collective heads out of the sand and acknowledges that it needs the regular referees back on the field. And that needs to happen before the league truly does become the No Fun League.

-Al Basler, ION Game Corner

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