There were three abhorrent NFL officiating blunders in Week 12, and there's no doubt something must be done to stop the madness.
In no particular order, we had:
- The inadvertent whistle that negated a touchdown for the Oakland Raiders vs. the Cincinnati Bengals.
- The lack of a fumble call late in the fourth quarter when Trent Richardson lost the ball vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- The lack of a pass interference call against Randy Moss vs. the New Orleans Saints.
All three blown calls impacted the game in which they were committed in major ways, and there are simple ways to fix the problems.
Here's what I would propose if I were in charge of mending what's broken regarding these three blunders.
There's no doubt the officials blew this call.
CSN Bay Area's Paul Gutierrez breaks down exactly what happened:
Here's what happened, with 7:31 remaining in the game: Cincinnati faced a 3rd and 6 at their own 20-yard line when Andy Dalton found Mohamed Sanu near the left sideline at the 25-yard line.
Joselio Hanson hit Sanu immediately and stripped the ball free, and before it went out of bounds, a hustling Hanson tapped the ball to keep it in play. Tyvon Branch scooped it up and ran it in for a touchdown that, with a made extra-point, would have gotten the Raiders to within 27-17. Except…
The referees huddled and tried to figure out what exactly had happened. After several minutes, the ruling was that an inadvertent whistle had blown the play dead and by rule, the Bengals could either A) take possession of the ball where the play was ruled dead, which would have made it 4th and 1, or B) play the down over.
Of course the Bengals chose the latter, and drove down for a touchdown.
The replay showed that line judge Julian Mapp did in fact blow the whistle before the play was dead after assuming the ball would go out of bounds.
The rulebook states that the play is dead when the whistle is blown, and furthermore the play is unreviewable under these circumstances.
Plays like these need to be reviewable. Period.
Whistle or not, the officials owe it to the teams on both sides to get the call right. It was obvious that the officials didn't really know what happened in this case, and the only way to be sure of the call is to use the resources available and go under the hood.
Blown Fumble Calls
Richardson lost the football with two minutes remaining in the game. The Cleveland Browns were up by just six points, and the Steelers would have been in great shape to win the game with what should have been a recovered fumble.
Referee Ron Winter was right there watching the play unfold, but remarkably (and inconceivably), he failed to rule that there was a fumble on the play.
Instead, Winter ruled that Richardson was down by contact—he clearly wasn't—and the play was ruled dead.
Sorry, Steelers defense. No soup for you.
Every potential fumble needs to be an automatic review.
Sure, this may slow some games down, but there are simply too many missed calls on fumbles. Referees have gotten used to deciding when forward progress has been stopped and have started whistling plays dead before they really are, and many a game has been decided by bad calls.
Offensive Pass Interference
Moss clearly interfered with Malcolm Jenkins, who had a clear path for an interception in the Saints end zone. Jenkins ended up missing the chance, due to Moss' grabbing and holding.
Making matters worse, Joe Morgan was called for offensive pass interference against Carlos Rogers earlier in the game on a play that was far less obvious. In fact, the ref could have easily called PI against Rogers instead.
Offensive pass interference is such a subjective thing. It's tough to find any consistency on a penalty that depends on the judgment of the official every single time. That said, there is something that the NFL can do to make it fairer on defensive backs.
Defenders aren't allowed to put their hands on receivers past the five-yard mark, so the same rule should apply to receivers.
This won't fix the situation entirely, but it might level the playing field a bit in favor of defenders, which have been abused by the wide receiver-friendly rules for years now.
Let us know what your solutions would be to these calls/non-calls in the comments section below.
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