NFL Referees have a challenging job, and for the most part they are not set up to succeed. Part-time businessmen are assigned events worth millions of dollars to officiate athletes way bigger than they are. It can't be easy, and to err is human. However, to paraphrase comedian Patrice O'Neal, if you suck, I'm going to let you know you suck.
Week 3's main game was the Patriots versus the Bills, which included some sketchy calls against the Patriots in the second half to help the Bills rally, and a Bills penalty in the second quarter for hitting a defenseless receiver. Wes Welker caught a pass on the ground, turned around, and was hit. He wasn't defenseless, gravity was his defense. A similar weird call took place in the Washington-Dallas game. Through the first three weeks, the officials have been okay, not outlandishly bad (please comment if you have examples of awful). In Week 4, where the rust of the offseason should have worn off for the referees, they went into the toilet.
I know some people will argue that the officials don't lose the game for a team, the team does it. I don't complete disagree, but I will use a Seinfeld quote to make my point. When Elaine pointed out to George that saying that a man was attractive doesn't make him gay, George replied "It doesn't help." Bad calls may not exactly determine the outcome of the game, but they definitely have an influence.
The first examples come from the Bengals-Bills game, with head referee Gene Steratore. Before I rant, let me disclose that Cincinnati played better than Buffalo, and probably deserved to win, because the Bills no-showed and laid off the gas after having a 17-3 halftime lead. That doesn't excuse the awful officiating that took place during the game.
A little background, Gene Steratore and his crew made two level-10 awful calls in the 2010 season. He was the referee who overturned the Calvin Johnson touchdown after Johnson caught the ball in the end zone, went to his knees, had an ice cream bar and then put the ball on the ground to celebrate. Somehow, beyond logic, this was an incompletion, and cost the Lions the game. The second level-10 awful call was the Dolphins-Steelers game, where Big Ben fumbled in the end zone. The officiating crew decided that figuring out who recovered the ball wasn't important (Miami did), and because Steratore couldn't tell who did, the Steelers got the ball back. They scored and won the game.
In the second quarter, Andy Dalton went back to pass, and was knocked down by two Bills. In the process of being knocked down, Dalton fumbled the ball, and Bryon Scott picked up the fumble, made a nice move on a Bengals offensive lineman, and ran into the end zone for the touchdown. Since the NFL now reviews all touchdowns, this was reviewed, and buzzed down for Steratore. I thought the play would be reversed because Scott was touched before the end zone. Bills ball, about the 10-yard line. Instead, Steratore called the tuck rule. Incomplete pass, Bengals ball. Big momentum shift.
Scott later did score a TD, so he personally got some revenge, but the tuck rule is an example of setting up referees to fail. The Tom Brady tuck rule call against the Raiders should have been an embarrassment, instead 10 years later the call still exists. The logic of the tuck rule is insane. The QB knows he is going to get sacked, so he tries to move the ball forward, or in more cases, has him arm moved forward by the guy hitting him, and it's just an incomplete pass. How is that not grounding? Still in the pocket, no receiver around, not back to the line of scrimmage, to avoid a sack. No consistency whatsoever. What's weird about Steratore's ruling is that if Scott got tackled before the end zone, the Bengals don't challenge that play. No one can see the tuck rule in real speed, and in a replay it looked like a fumble. Steratore's interpretations of the NFL rules is obviously warped, see Calvin Johnson catch above.
That wasn't even the worst call of the game. The Bills offense was far from good, but on a 3rd down, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pass to Stevie Johnson past the 1st down marker. It looked like he caught the ball. The official in the back called it incomplete. Fred Jackson and Johnson went crazy, knowing he caught the ball. The players are not always the best gauge for replays. After showing replays, Johnson caught the ball, like anyone else does when on their knees, without the ball hitting the ground. Steratore reviewed after the Bills challenged and came out with the great explanation that "After review, the ruling on the field is confirmed". Thanks for the clarity stupid. Pete Morelli and Mike Carey may not be perfect, but they always provide an explanation for their reasoning. Steratore's review was that his guy screwed up and he didn't want to make him look bad. I can't imagine how the NFL is looking at multiple lapses of logic and viewing him as a viable option as a lead official every week. Plus Steratore does college basketball, so you have to give him credit for passion and fear for multiple sports he officiates. The Johnson call was about a level-7 bad call, it didn't directly affect the outcome of the game (end of game call, taking TD off the board), but changed the momentum for sure.
A special quick mention is deserved to the Patriots-Raiders game, which will get little press because the Patriots won by a lot, but that doesn't excuse mediocre officiating. No level 10 boners here. However, there were hits to the helmet that weren't called, Wes Welker caught a pass and hit the pylon and nobody cared and a pass interference was overturned against the Patriots because I guess it wasn't catch able (because the receiver was knocked down). Nothing awful, just noteworthy.
I saved awful for the Giants-Cardinals game, and this is almost a level-10 error in the tuck rule/Calvin Johnson catch where the referee or official directly impacted the outcome of the game. A simple rule for NFL officials. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU! If you are unsure about a call, make the call that will allow the players to decide the game on the field. If you don't make the right decision, at least don't call an insulting explanation that makes you look foolish (maybe that's why Steratore doesn't give explanations, they would all look foolish).
Before the big play, the referees showed a lack of understanding of the situation when the Giants called a timeout and the Cardinals tried to challenge the play at the same time. Jerome Bogar followed the rule correctly, but didn't do a good job managing the situation. The Giants timeout was acknowledged first, and then the Cardinals challenge followed. The explanation to Tom Coughlin would have taken a moment but would have cleared it up for him. Just imagine if the Giants called a timeout, and during that timeout the Cardinals had time to look at the replay and decided to challenge (quick note, a horrible challenge by Ken Whisenhunt). It's just the order, and although it stinks, we have to follow it that way. Had Bogar done that, Coughlin may have still been upset, but he would have known why the timeout was gone. Communication is an official's best friend.
Unless the communication to the crowd is "He gave himself up." That sounds like a country song, not like an explanation for a football review. With 3:10 to go in the 4th, with Arizona up 27-24, Eli Manning threw a pass over the middle to Victor Cruz. Cruz caught the ball, and a Cardinal tried to tackle him. Cruz stayed up, and ran forward. With bad footing, Cruz fell to the ground. When Cruz stood up, he didn't have the ball. Arizona dove on the ball, because the whistle didn't blow. Bogar and his officials (wait for the cherry on top) ruled that it was still Giants ball. The Cardinals players were freaking out, because the rookie receiver just stood up without being touched without the ball. With zero timeouts and about 3 minutes to go, 1 first down would end the game for the Cardinals. Whisenhunt this time threw the challenge flag correctly and then Bogar and his officials decided that Cruz by diving forward (aka falling) on his stomach and then standing up gave himself up, and that Arizona couldn't review the play. The next play, Manning threw to Nicks for the winning TD.
Where do I begin here? The concept of surrendering or giving yourself up does exist. If a QB or player slides feet first, that is one way. The second way is to kneel down with the ball. Falling on your face head first without being touched and then standing up without the ball is not one of those ways. The call even made Mike Pereira go dizzy and he's a big pro referee explain away analyst. How Bogar could come up with that as his rationale played a big factor in the Cardinals losing the game. Not completely, but it didn't help. Maybe Bogar was confused and looked to his back judge to help give him clarity on the rule.
His back judge is Tony Steratore. I'm not making that up. The Steratores appear to be successful businessmen running a Sanitary Supplies company. On the weekend, they are using the supplies to clean up the crappy calls they make. The job is tough, the criticism isn't easy either, deal with it.