As Commish of the NFL, Roger Goodell is responsible for a great many things. One of the most important is the oversight of the league's officiating. Sure, there is a committee of Senior NFL Officials that review games and make recommendations to Goddell, but ultimately, the responsibility of fielding competent officiating crews is his.
Today's ghastly error was not a first for this NFL season. NFL Referee Ed Hochuli has been under fire for several blown calls by his crew this season. His calls during the San Diego-Denver game were bad enough to merit the lowering of his officiating grade by the NFL. Hochuli's missed calls even brought on the wrath of Jerry Jones, resulting in a fine for Jones. Seems that the officials can continue to change the outcomes of games but no one can call them on it.
This time, it was the officiating crew led by Referee Jerome Boger.
The first of today's gaffes was a call against the Eagles when Philly's Trent Cole hit Matt Ryan just as the Falcons QB was releasing the ball. The officials called a personal foul on Cole for what was clearly a clean hit that was nowhere near being late. Yet the Eagles were penalized the 15 yards.
The big blunder, which cost the Falcons a chance at winning the game, came with 2:28 left in the game. The Falcons had just stopped the Eagles and were preparing to receive the punt from the Philly 26 yard line. The Falcons were down 20-14 and bracing for yet another comeback drive engineered by rookie sensation Matt Ryan. Yet the drive which would ultimately decide the outcome of this game was never to be seen.
The Falcons, up to this point, had been struggling. Starting off by controlling the line of scrimmage on defense, the Falcons held the Eagles scoreless through most of the first half. As the half waned, the Eagles and Donavan McNabb warmed up and led the Falcons at the break 10-7.
The second half was all Eagles, and McNabb diced the Falcons secondary for acres of yards (19 of 34 for 253), and Brian Westbrook bowled linebackers over with a sustained rushing attack (22 for 167).
The Falcons weren't doing much to help themselves either. Dropped passes and the incredibly silly decision to throw a fade pass on 2nd-and-goal from the three-yard line all contributed to the Falcons' nightmare. Ryan's pass from the three was intercepted and negated a huge scoring opportunity for the Falcons.
Yet despite the lack of a rushing game, the drops, and poor playcalling, the Falcons had clawed their way back to within a touchdown of winning the game. Ryan sat poised, ready to lead his team onto the field to try and pull a rabbit out of the hat and win the game with his last-minute heroics, as demonstrated two weeks ago against Chicago.
That was never to happen. Philly's Sav Rocca launched his punt skyward, and as it came down, the Falcons' Adam Jennings made a poor decision. Jennings ran to the ball as it came down, appearing as if he was going to catch it and try to make a play.
As the Philly defenders closed, Jennings pulled up and the ball hit the ground just before his feet and bounced straight upward. Somehow, the officials believed the ball hit Jennings somewhere on his body, which meant it was a live ball, free for anyone to recover.
Philly's Akeem Jordan grabbed the ball and dashed for the end zone while whistles pierced through the screams of thousands of Eagles fans.
Surely the officials were calling the ball dead right? Wrong. The call on the field was that the catch was "muffed" and while the ball cannot be advanced by the kicking team, it was Philadelphia's ball, thus ending Atlanta's attempted comeback drive.
Coach Mike Smith stormed onto the field, red flag in hand, but the Falcons had no timeouts left with which to challenge the call. Replay after replay on the Fox Network showed time and time again from every conceivable angle that the ball did not touch Jennings in any way, shape, or form.
Yet another game decided by the Zebras instead of the players.
After the dust settled, the Falcons defense caved and Philly ended up with the 27-14 win.
I'm not taking anything away from the Eagles. They played a solid and strong game. They ran the ball with authority and made some big plays when needed. The Falcons' Adam Jennings should have been three time zones away from the ball if he wasn't going to return it, and his indecision contributed so much to this mess that his legacy in Atlanta will be his allowing the officials to decide today's game. Jennings is averaging six yards per return and today's mistake might be his last in a Falcons uniform.
So, what happens next? The NFL will review the game, and Bogers rating will probably be lowered like Hochuli's. So basically nothing happens. The Falcons can't get that drive back, and the game becomes cemented in the record books.
Goodell has done some very positive things in the league during his short tenure with the NFL, but unless he does something to fix the horrific calls by his officiating crews, the NFL will never escape from the acronym, Not Fair League.
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