NFL senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson told reporters Saturday that the officiating crew for Sunday's wild-card matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders believed an inadvertent whistle during Tyler Boyd's controversial touchdown reception came after the wideout had made the catch.
Here's the play in question, with a whistle clearly heard while Joe Burrow's pass was still in the air:
JOE BURR-WOW. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RuleTheJungle?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RuleTheJungle</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SuperWildCard?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SuperWildCard</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/JoeyB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JoeyB</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LVvsCIN?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LVvsCIN</a> on NBC<br>📱: NFL app <a href="https://t.co/1U4Gq33J61">pic.twitter.com/1U4Gq33J61</a>
By rule, the play should have been blown dead the moment the whistle sounded:
Aditi Kinkhabwala @AKinkhabwala
VERY audible on TV (but not from the press box), an inadvertent whistle was blown just before a scrambling Joe Burrow hit Tyler Boyd for a TD. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NFL?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NFL</a> rules say the ball should've been dead immediately and the down replayed. Ouch.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bengals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Bengals</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Raiders?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Raiders</a> <a href="https://t.co/eybu9Ei0HP">https://t.co/eybu9Ei0HP</a>
Instead, it became a controversial moment and talking point in Cincinnati's 26-19 win.
Given the timing of the whistle, with the ball in the air and nearly in Boyd's hands, it likely didn't impact much on the field and would have been a tough break for the Bengals had the officials properly ruled the play dead. But by the absolute letter of the law, Jerome Boger's crew got this one wrong, no matter what postgame justification they offered.
It was hardly the only call that Boger's crew appeared to get wrong during the game, becoming a major storyline in an otherwise exciting matchup:
Will Brinson @WillBrinson
Raiders got hosed by the letter of the law but it would have been WAY worse if that completely and wholly unnecessary whistle -- Burrow was a foot inbounds -- took away a touchdown.<br><br>Bottom line is NFL refs do something like this every single game and the league just won't fix it
It's possible that the addition of numerous camera angles and high-definition replays have made officiating gaffes all the more obvious to the average viewer. But it's hard to ignore that poor officiating has felt like a weekly storyline in the NFL this season.
In November, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk reported that "multiple people directly involved with the NFL, at the team level" said the league had an "officiating crisis" on its hands this season.
One common critique of the NFL's approach to officiating is that its referees are just part-time employees. Wouldn't full-time officials naturally have more time to improve at their craft?
Another is that some rules during a game aren't reviewable, with the timing of a whistle during the play being one of them. That critique boils down to the idea that if you have instant replay available, why not make everything reviewable?
There will always be missed calls. The NFL is played at an incredibly fast speed, and even the best officials are going to miss flags or see things differently based on their viewing angle. But many of the complaints Saturday, and throughout the season, often boil down to the NFL not having better mechanisms in place to ensure games are officiated at the highest possible level.