Rams vs. Seahawks: One Referee Screw-Up Away From Potential Greatness

Alex WolfeContributor IJanuary 3, 2011

Sam Bradford adjusts the play during the Rams' disappointing 16-6 loss at Qwest Field in Seattle
Sam Bradford adjusts the play during the Rams' disappointing 16-6 loss at Qwest Field in SeattleOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

I am a St. Louis Rams fan. Unfortunately, I was too young to care when they won the Super Bowl in the 1999-2000 season. I became a fan in 2001 (because of my favorite player, Marshall Faulk) and promptly had my heart broken by the Patriots.

I suffered through almost 10 years of mediocrity before this year. But this year was different. With a new quarterback in Sam Bradford playing beyond his years, this team finally had a leader and a purpose.

After a whole season of not seeing the Rams play (I live in New Jersey, hardly a stone's throw away from St. Louis) I got to see them play in the final game of the season.

However, while I was giddy as could be, and the Rams defense played with as much fire as I've seen in years (I won't talk about the receivers), the officials hardly seemed like they were involved in a game that could decide the playoff fate of two teams.

The first major referee-generated turning point of the game was the Laurent Robinson non-catch in the second quarter, with the Seahawks up 7-0. This was an acceptable missed call, since at first glance it did appear that Robinson had lifted his foot before he caught the ball.

Maybe the Rams should have challenged this one, but the fact of the matter is that the refs blew a call that could have been the difference between a field goal and a touchdown.

As excusable as the first referee mistake was, the second mistake was that much more inexcusable.

This play deserves a full retelling because of the ridiculousness of it. It was second down, one yard to go and the Seahawks ran an up-the-gut run play, up 13-6 at the time. The running back, Michael Robinson, fell down at around the line of scrimmage, and was touched down by Bryan Kehl of the Rams.

Robinson then scuttled another foot or two forward, still behind the first down marker, and (as pretty much every player does in situations like this) placed the ball as far forward as his arm could reach, at about the first down marker. 

So, to anyone with a remote knowledge of football, that was quite obviously not a first down. Al Michaels started talking about how crucial a third down this would be for the Rams defense. And then, the Seahawks run their next play, but somehow they were in a first-and-10 situation instead of a third-and-one situation.

Michaels was confused, Cris Collinsworth was appalled and I had a few choice words spill from my mouth towards the referee staff. 

How was there no chain gang measurement?

If the ball is spotted anywhere within a foot of the first down measurement, there is almost always a measurement to ensure that the spot is correct.

In this case, Robinson's knee was down at least a yard away from the first down marker, and even if the referees went by the spot of his elbow he was still at least two feet away when he was touched down by Kehl. There was absolutely no excuse for the lack of measurement on this play, especially in a seven point game with a playoff spot on the line.

There was five minutes left in the game at the time of this play and if the Rams had gotten the ball back with around four minutes to go, the outcome of this game could have been completely changed. The fact that the referees took so long to determine the first down call left no time for the Rams to challenge the spot and gave the Seahawks the opportunity to run a quick play to take away any potential challenge. 

I am most definitely not trying to say that the Rams had played a good game up to this point. There were at least five drops by Rams receivers (ahem, Danario Alexander) that helped cost the team possessions, and Bradford looked as rattled as any quarterback has ever looked throughout the course of the first half.

But for a young team, a loss like this that was potentially decided by a bad call can be crushing. Bradford (outside of his one interception) was throwing the ball deep in the second half and was throwing good passes. The offense in the second half looked like they could have been one good completion or two from hitting their stride and tying up the game.

I might just be an overly-optimistic Rams fan. It's entirely possible that the Rams could have gotten the stop on third down and then proceeded to drop every pass on offense and lose the game anyway.

But the fact of the matter is, the referees blew a colossal call that stripped the Rams of the chance to have their last hurrah and that's hardly the justice that this team deserved after an amazing turnaround season.