NFL Wild-Card Saturday Takeaways: Bad Officiating Can't Define the Postseason
The NFL can't get out of its own way. Every game is an event, but the postseason just means more. Yet the main talking point coming out of Saturday's action is how poorly officiated the league continues to be.
It's a shame, really.
The Buffalo Bills put on an awesome display to bury the rival New England Patriots in what could be a real changing of the guard in the AFC, while the Cincinnati Bengals' run as the league's exciting upstarts continues with Joe Burrow leading the way.
These topics should dominate conversations for the next few days. Instead, the NFL has another headache after boneheaded calls in big moments.
The Wild Card Round is just an appetizer, though. The possibility of a turnaround still exists in the playoffs progress. Better officiating crews will be on the field. The league's best squads should provide more crisp play. At least, that's the hope. Otherwise, the NFL will face the onset of mixed emotions ranging from apathy to disillusionment.
Excuses can be made during the regular season. The same can't be said when a run to the Super Bowl is on the line. Maybe onlookers didn't see anything quite as bad as the missed pass interference call against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game from three years ago.
But the accumulation of poor officiating has certainly worn nerves raw after yet another ridiculous foul-up in Saturday's meeting between the Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders.
NFL Changes to Officiating Are a Must
What appeared to be a sensational play by Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow turned into another NFL officiating catastrophe.
Burrow rolled to his right on a 3rd-and-4 from the Las Vegas Raiders' 10-yard line, threw across his body and found wide receiver Tyler Boyd in the back of the end zone before running out of bounds. Unfortunately, an inadvertent whistle rang during the play.
As NFL Network's Tom Pelissero noted, anytime an "official sounds his whistle erroneously while the ball is still in play, the ball becomes dead immediately." While the shrill sound seemingly didn't have any effect, the rulebook states the play should have never counted. Instead, the game officials chose to overlook the miscue and allow the score.
After the contest, league officials claimed those on the field determined the whistle came after Boyd scored the touchdown even though it clearly didn't. Ultimately, the Raiders lost 26-19, even though they had a chance to win the game during the waning seconds.
"I've got enough problems with my job, I can't do the officiating, too," Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia told reporters after the contest.
Las Vegas made enough mistakes on its own to warrant the loss. At the same time, the NFL's inconsistency with its officiating is maddening. Saturday's mistake isn't a one-off occurrence. Game-changing calls can be seen in almost every contest.
The league's protection of quarterbacks is out of control with some of the weakest personal foul penalties anyone can find. Ask Derek Carr after the "bone-rattling collision" [full-on air quotes GIF] he took from Khalid Kareem, which cost the Bengals 15 yards in a clutch situation.
Pass interference is even worse. The game's most punitive call is also its most inconsistently levied. A game can swing on a 20-30 yard penalty that's inherently subjective in its nature.
These are but a few obvious examples. The NFL must take drastic measures to minimize the type of calls that will ultimately drive fans away because of a horrible viewing experience. A few possible solutions include hiring all officials on a full-time basis, implementing a sky judge and not mixing-and-matching officiating crews during the postseason.
Fans should be excited about the postseason. The overall conversation after the day's play shouldn't revolve around how poorly the league is at officiating its own product.
Despite Postseason Appearance, Las Vegas Raiders Are in Need of Restart
The Las Vegas Raiders should be proud of what they accomplished during the 2021 campaign despite the organization enduring significant turmoil. All the same, a strong finish to the regular season followed by a one-and-done postseason appearance shouldn't be enough to sway owner Mark Davis from resetting the franchise.
Rich Bisaccia deserves all of the praise he received after the Raiders won four straight games to claim a playoff berth. But short-term gains aren't the goal when considering long-term franchise building.
A rebuilt hierarchy is necessary to create legitimate organizational stability. Aside from the emails that ended Gruden's tenure, the power dynamic within the Raiders organization was flawed. Mike Mayock joined the team to serve as Gruden's second, not be a fully functioning NFL general manager. Now, Mayock is left standing as the face of the front office when his decision-making should be brought into question alongside Gruden on football matters.
Since joining the Raiders organization in 2019, Mayock had a hand in six first-round draft picks. Clelin Ferrell turned into a Top 5 dud. Josh Jacobs is the lone standout. Johnathan Abram is a serviceable defensive back but struggles in coverage. Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette are no longer with the team. Alex Leatherwood already failed at right tackle and continued his struggles at guard.
A proper general manager hire should be the first step toward reorganizing the Raiders. Shotgun weddings rarely work in the NFL, and the new head of the front office will likely want to bring in someone who shares his vision.
Some will argue Bisaccia deserves a chance on a full-time basis. Maybe he should. But Davis already has his eye on Jim Harbaugh to become the Raiders' next head coach, according to ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio.
Right now, the Raiders aren't good enough. Bisaccia made them better. Yet the team still came up short in the postseason by making way too many mental mistakes, which falls on a coaching staff.
With the possibility of a new general manager and head coach, the Raiders will then be forced to consider whether another regime will move forward with Derek Carr behind center. He's a competent quarterback. Teams could do far worse at the position. Even so, the lasting impression of Carr's season will be him throwing an ugly interception with the game on the line to end the campaign. In case anyone is wondering, none of Carr's $19.9 million salary is guaranteed next season.
Defensive Injuries Could Hamper Cincinnati Bengals' Playoff Push
As the competition improves, the Cincinnati Bengals' chances of rising to the occasion in the divisional round and beyond could be seriously hampered.
No one should underestimate the Bengals with Joe Burrow behind center and all of the weapons found within Cincinnati's offense. However, they may be forced to get into a shootout depending on three specific injuries that occurred during Saturday's 26-19 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders.
Of the three, Trey Hendrickson's pending status could be the most impactful.
Hendrickson is one of the game's premier pass-rushers. Last offseason's prized free-agent signing finished fifth overall with 14 sacks and provided the Bengals with a consistent edge presence. He even notched another against Derek Carr and the Raiders. Unfortunately, the Bengals ruled the defensive end out of the contest afterward with a concussion.
Without the Pro Bowl performer in the lineup, the Bengals failed to generate any pressure whatsoever going into the fourth quarter and did very little to rattle Carr during the final frame. If Hendrickson isn't cleared of the concussion protocol by next weekend's action, Cincinnati could face the likes of the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills without their best defensive player.
The defensive line took another hit when defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi left the contest with a foot injury. Ogunjobi's status isn't known, but he left the game on the cart and met his teammates after Cincinnati's victory while riding a scooter, per the Cincinnati Enquirer's Kelsey Conway.
To make matters worse, nickel corner Mike Hilton was dinged during the contest, too, though he was able to jog off the field. His situation is one worth watching throughout the practice week to see how much he may or may not be affected.
The idea of facing Mahomes again or Josh Allen or a rejuvenated Derrick Henry coming back from injury isn't pleasant even with a fully defensive allotment. If multiple key contributors can't play or become limited, the Bengals' hopes of a magical run could quickly vanish.
Buffalo Bills Are Biggest Challengers to Kansas City Chiefs in AFC
The Buffalo Bills probably felt a little like Ace Ventura in the original Pet Detective after handing the rival New England Patriots a 47-17 drubbing.
"Yes! Yes! Oh yeah. Can you feel that, buddy?! I have exorcised the demons. This house is clear."
Sure, Buffalo advanced to the AFC Championship Game a year ago, and the Bills beat the Patriots in three of their past four regular-season meetings. But there's something completely different when beating Bill Belichick in the postseason by handing him the worst playoff loss in the future Hall of Fame coach's career.
Such a dominant performance can propel a team to greatness, and the rest of the AFC should watch out for the Bills. What potential opponents will find is a well-balanced team featuring arguably the best overall roster.
Quarterback Josh Allen torched a usually sound Patriots secondary to the tune of 308 passing yards, 66 rushing yards and five touchdown passes. Running back Devin Singletary ran for a couple of scores behind an offensive line that pushed New England's defensive front all over the field. Buffalo's top-ranked passing defense picked off rookie quarterback Mac Jones twice as well.
Officially, Buffalo entered Saturday's play as the AFC's third seed. How they handled business places them on the same tier as the Kansas City Chiefs, who represented the conference in the Super Bowl in the past two seasons. Buffalo has the quarterback and offense to match up against the Chiefs. The Bills defense is superior, though.
The Tennessee Titans will have something to say as the conference's No. 1 overall seed. The possibility of getting Derrick Henry back creates a far more interesting dynamic. The Titans also have an extra week off. Mike Vrabel's squad earned its spot. However, they're behind both Kansas City and Buffalo at the game's most important position, and Henry's effectiveness off of injury is unknown.
This could well be the Bills' year, and the Buffalo faithful can't imagine a sweeter setup.
It's Time for Josh McDaniels to Finally Move On from Patriots
Four years ago, Josh McDaniels did the unimaginable. He accepted an NFL head-coaching position with the Indianapolis Colts only to do an about-face and return as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.
The timing of the decision couldn't have been worse, as Indy had already begun hiring some of his preferred assistants. Some thought McDaniels' reputation would be damaged beyond repair.
"I wasn't 100 percent sure what the future was. I just hadn't had any clarity on that," McDaniels told the Boston Globe's Jim McBride. "So, where did I fit in? Were there any plans? I just didn't have much clarity on what my role was [with the Patriots] moving forward."
McDaniels has routinely been one of the hottest coaching candidates even after he left the Colts at the altar. Now, he seems to know exactly where he stands. More importantly, his vision for the Patriots' future isn't all that promising.
"A lot of people feel—at least from what I'm told—that while Josh McDaniels likes Mac Jones, he doesn't think Mac Jones is a Super Bowl type of quarterback," Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline said.
If McDaniels feels Jones is an impediment to the Patriots' success, there's no reason to stick around any longer. Currently, eight head-coaching positions are available. The Patriots coordinator hasn't yet been linked to any, but with the team's season coming to an end, he's sure to garner some interest.
New England isn't going to regain its former glory. Bill Belichick and Co. can continue to grind out winning seasons, but it's different now (and everyone knows what, or who, that difference is). A walloping at the hands of the rival Buffalo Bills simply makes the decision easier for McDaniels. It's the Bills' division—hence it's time to go elsewhere.