I know, I know, I usually make it a point not to talk about whatever is dominating the big sports media. And, frankly, that’s usually because it just doesn’t interest me. But, all the hubbub over last night’s game has my attention.
I suppose a good deal of that is because my wife and her family are all Packer fans, so I like to see them do well. I always kind of liked the Packers, anyway. I love the whole “neighborhood feel” of the team. It’s got a collegiate type of feel to it, at least to an outsider looking in. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were a real Packer fan or if I lived around Green Bay, but that’s the way it’s portrayed, and the team sure seems to embrace that image.
Fitting, then, that last night’s game seemed to be officiated by overwhelmed collegiate officials. I don’t know who the officiating crew was, nor do I know their background. But I do know that game was hard to watch last night. I’ve generally been on record that, for the most part, the refs haven’t been so bad. Have they been perfect? No, but neither would the “real” refs. More attention is being put on the calls that the current officials have messed up, so it seems like a bigger problem than it is. Generally, the officiating is a textbook puffed-up story.
But, last night was a different story. Twenty-four penalties were called in that game. The same number called in the Patriots-Ravens game, which was generally concluded to be a mess.* In all honesty, the first half wasn’t so bad. Which goes to show bad the second half was. At one point in the fourth quarter, and this was pointed out in the telecast, there four or five consecutive penalized plays. Three or four holding calls and a pass interference that should have gone the other way.** Dan Dakich made a very good point on his radio show yesterday. Really, the biggest problem with these refs is flow of the game. Sometimes the locked out guys were bad about this, too, but it seems to have gotten worse with the current officials.
*And will likely cost Bill Belichick somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000. Maybe more. It just depends on how big a hammer the league wants to bring down.
**This was also pointed out in the telecast. But, this is one I’ll (somewhat) defend the replacements on. The usual guys never seem to call offensive pass interference right, either. I don’t have a lot of faith that the replacements were the problem here. Though I do believe that play probably would have just gone unflagged with the normal guys.
Flow of game is something I’ve talked about here, too. Yeah, it’s good and somewhat important to get it right. But, really, the bigger job of refs is to make quick judgements so the game moves along. I’ve generally railed about this in regards to baseball, as the pace is already slowed so badly. More instant replay is just going to get in the way of that. But it’s a problem in football, too. Especially when it seems like every single play is discussed and reviewed to hell and back. Play thirty seconds, take three minutes to figure out what you just saw. It’s killer for a viewer. Everybody, players, coaches, viewers, officials, would be much better off just making their call and moving on.
Besides, it’s not like reviewing is actually helping anything.
This bring us to the big debacle that everybody is talking about. First off, Green Bay was robbed, but they can’t complain too loudly about it. If they would have bothered to score in the first half, this would have been a non-issue. Mike McCarthy said as much in his post-game press conference. But, that was a blown call. Plain and simple. Maybe it looked like a jump ball when everybody was in the air, but it was pretty clear to see once they hit the ground that the defender had control of the ball, and Golden Tate just had an arm and maybe his other fingertips wrapped around to touch the ball. Not exactly a situation anybody would have called “dual possession.”* And, yet, a bit later, here came an official with his arms to the sky. Directly following an official who was waving his arms, seemingly about to point the ball to Green Bay. Indecision ensued, leading to the pass being declared a touchdown. Seattle wins.
*As a bit of an aside, I got to see what sure looked to me to be a blown dual possession call right in front of me. My sophomore year, Wabash had what may well have been the best football team they’ve fielded since I’ve been watching. It also happened to be a year when Mount Union looked a little mortal, and before Wisconsin-Whitewater turned into a juggernaught. Wabash had run through their schedule unscathed and landed a top seed in the playoffs. In the second round, they drew Capital, a good team from Mount Union’s conference. It was a dogged game, but luck was not on Wabash’s side. They lost a touchdown when a runner was declared down, when I’m pretty darned sure I never saw his knee touch the ground. Late in the game, Wabash driving. A touchdown would take the lead and assuredly win the game. A field goal would send it into overtime. And we were in field goal range. Russ Harbaugh passed towards the sideline. The receiver and defender came down with the ball together, landing out of bounds. We were disappointed, because it would have meant a first down, but an incomplete would not be the worst thing. Suddenly, the official motions. “Capital ball.” I still to this day have no idea how that ruling was ever considered, let alone called. Wabash lost the game. Capital traveled to Mount Union the next week and lost by a last second field goal. If Wabash could have gotten Mount Union in Crawfordsville, there was a very good shot of moving on. And since Mount Union did end up winning that year, who knows what might have been.
Now, I have a theory on this one. I truly believe that they called it a touchdown to force the play to be reviewed. Sure, that one would likely be reviewed anyway, but a scoring play is automatically reviewed. The problem is, as I’ve read and heard on the radio this morning, dual possession is not reviewable. So, once the play was declared a touchdown, it was over, as everybody was relatively comfortably in-bounds and the ball didn’t hit the ground.
This is obviously not your standard ending to a game. Which is exactly when you don’t want the subs in. I do truly believe the regular refs would have been markedly better here. They probably would have managed the immediate scrum following the pass better and made a more definitive, quick call. No groping around trying to figure out what rules applied here, no two officials making different calls. Likely no two officials making calls at all, the regular refs having a better sense of who’s calling what. Truly, that is one of my biggest gripes in any sport. Officials making calls they are out of position for. That’s usually more of a basketball thing, but it certainly happens in other sports.
Will this finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Maybe. Maybe this will finally be what ends Roger Goodell’s reign as commissioner. He may look the part, but his time sure makes him look like an empty suit. That’s a story for another day, though. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the negotiations between the NFL and the refs goes after this. There apparently was a wide gulf yesterday. I’d imagine the distance might be more in rowing range today.
UPDATE: I have since read that there is an automatic review in place this year for turnovers as well as scoring plays. I would say that negates my theory of why the officials erred on the side of offense, but I’m not entirely convinced these officials (maybe most replacement officials) were aware of this rule, either.
ANOTHER UPDATE: The information just keeps pouring in, even though this isn’t exactly breaking news. Last night’s officiating crew is the same one that did the St. Louis-Washington game that was also universally considered a disaster. That seems like a good example of being kicked upstairs, but whoever did the kicking didn’t quite have enough leg.