On the most important Sunday of the 2013 season, the NFL's besieged officiating crews are once again under fire. This time, it's the result of a pair of very questionable calls made in games that had huge postseason implications.
The first occurred near the end of regulation in San Diego, where the Kansas City Chiefs were on the verge of knocking the San Diego Chargers out of the playoffs and sending the Pittsburgh Steelers into them.
With the score tied at 24, Ryan Succop hooked the game-winning 41-yard field goal.
However, the miss should have been negated due to a penalty that went uncalled. According to Fox Sports officiating guru Mike Pereira, NFL rules state that teams cannot have more than six men on either side of the formation on a field-goal attempt.
Hate to add full to the fire, but some of my followers have pointed out that SD was in an illegal defensive formation on the missed FG— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 30, 2013
They are correct. SD had more than 6 players on one side of the center on the line of scrimmage. That is a new rule and a foul.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 30, 2013
As you can see, the Chargers lined up seven players on the same side. Those players just happen to be sandwiched between two officials.
The Chargers went on to win the game 27-24 in overtime, ending the Steelers' season.
UPDATE: Monday, December 30 at 11:07 AM ET
The NFL has released a statement acknowledging an error in the Chargers' overtime victory over the Chiefs. The statement, via ProFootballTalk.com, reads:
The penalty for illegal formation by the defense is a loss of five yards. This is not subject to instant replay review. Had the penalty been assessed, it would have resulted in a fourth-and-seven from the San Diego 18 with 0:04 remaining, enabling the Chiefs to attempt a 36-yard field goal.
This admission does nothing to ease the frustration of Steelers players and fans of the team and the NFL.
-- End of update --
Things didn't go any better for the crew working the second half of the battle for the NFC East between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
With the Cowboys trailing by eight in the fourth quarter, tight end Jason Witten caught a 34-yard pass over the middle of the field. Before Dallas could get another play off, the team was whistled for delay of game.
It should not have been.
The play clock was mistakenly reset to 25 seconds, as it would be for a play out of bounds where the game clock stops. It did not on this play, and the clock should have been set at 40 seconds.
Simply put, there was no penalty, and while the Cowboys went on to score on that drive, the argument can certainly be made that every snap counts in what ended up being a two-point Dallas loss.
Referees and side judges are human beings, and as such, it isn't reasonable to expect them to be perfect.
With that said, these sorts of apparently obvious misses aren't going to do anything to quell the growing furor calling for serious changes among NFL officials.