Deep into the fourth quarter, San Diego's bend-and-nine-times-out-of-10-break defense had allowed yet another modest gain to Tyler Thigpen and the scrappy Chiefs.
On second down, at the Chargers 18 yard line, Thigpen launched a pass to Tony Gonzalez that was swatted down by Clinton Hart.
The San Diego defense would only need two more plays to conserve their win over Kansas City.
Except for the flag thrown seconds after the play was over.
The pass interference call elicited boos and memories of other official foul-ups against the Chargers this season. Ed Hochuli, anyone?
With a fresh set of downs at the San Diego three yard line, Thigpen found Gonzalez in the end zone a couple of plays later.
Again, eliciting memories of a crushing game for Chargers fans, Kansas City coach Herman Edwards decided to go for two, which—should the conversion succeed—would give San Diego 23 seconds to work with.
Thigpen rolled out and tried to find Gonzalez (who was referred to as a future Hall of Famer by announcer Steve Tasker 13,293 times during the broadcast) in the end zone before Clinton Hart and Quentin Jammer broke the play up.
San Diego escaped.
No harm, no foul—right?
In Week two at Denver, blown calls made it possible for the Broncos to score 15 points on the Chargers.
Two weeks ago, at New Orleans (in London), questionable pass interference calls made it possible for the Saints to score the go-ahead TD that ultimately decided it.
Far be it from me to blame the refs for San Diego's horrible defensive performance through nine games this season. It would also be unreasonable to think referees, as humans, cannot make mistakes.
However, are these calls a reflection of the NFL's re-imagination of rules, clamping down on what they believe is violent play leading to injuries?
What do we make of referees appearing to have a bias leaning towards the home team in games?
In 2005, more than two-thirds of the league's teams were flagged more away from home than in their own stadium.
Why aren't referees allowed to overturn certain penalties via instant replay? Why can't a play whistled dead be reviewed?
While these may all be pertaining to human mistakes, one can make a case for the system itself being flawed.
For years now, defensive players have been discouraged from making contact with the QB unless the ball is in his hands.
It's fair to say that some, if not most, roughing the passer penalties called around the league nowadays are downright ridiculous.
Fines and suspensions persecute players who are hard-hitters, and reprimands issued by the league now seem to be based on reputation more so than what happened in the field.
We should all support safety on the field, but also remember that this is a contact sport and that players are protected by padding and being paid handsomely to risk their bodies.
When the outcomes of games are swung one way or another (or downright decided) by referee (or penalty system) mistakes, at what point does this stop being a matter of one team versus another?
Why is there a double standard about hitting QBs and WRs as opposed to linemen?
What type of game is the current NFL evolving towards? Will future generations be subjected to a glorified version of flag football?
I suggest NFL executives take one look at the way the game is played in other countries.
Better yet, tune into a rugby game.
Two minutes of that will make anyone look like a pansy.
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