Officiating Breakdown from Championship Weekend

Pranav Ramasubramanian | January 30th, 2019

The championship games were great entertainment and proved to be some great fun for football fans as it is some of the last meaningful games until September. Even though the deserving teams seemed to have won what looms large is the calls that more or less decided the wins. The NFC Championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints was called by Bill Vinovich and his staff while the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs was called by Clete Blakeman and his staff. Let’s examine some of the crucial missed calls.

Los Angeles Rams vs New Orleans Saints

Play clock runs out

The refs didn’t seem to be attentive or even look up for that matter in this game, I mean if the play clock hits double zeros you have to throw the flag, that’s officiating 101. The Saints got away with two such calls and the first one occurred on a crucial 3rd and 17 for the Saints, when Brees threw a check-down pass to Alvin Kamara for only three yards on the play and the Saints were forced to punt. The refs got away with one as even Ndamukong Suh was pointing up at the clock, but the play didn’t amount to anything as it made the Saints punt the ball back to the Rams, but one wonders if Sean Payton may have actually taken a risk and thrown a long ball to attempt to get the first down given another chance.

The other call was a huge missed one that could’ve changed the course of the entire game as Taysom Hill was taking the direct snap on 2nd and goal, but it didn’t look as if he got it off in time, but it did end up as a failed play as he was unable to hit Kamara for the touchdown. Taysom Hill would score a two-yard touchdown on a Drew Brees pass the next play and the Saints went up 10. In the red zone, it’s all about field position and rather it being 3rd and goal from the 2, it would’ve been 2nd and goal from the 7 and the Saints would’ve definitely gotten points out of this drive, but there is a huge difference between 3 and 7 in games like this.

Saints players get too handsy

The Saints got their hands stuck in the cookie jar twice in this game, but the refs somehow missed it both times. The Rams were driving right before the end of the half to get some points to cut the Saints lead down into single digits and Goff floated a perfect pass to Brandin Cooks, who outran P.J. Williams for a 36-yard completion and looked like he was headed to the end zone with the speed he was going at, but P.J. Williams was able to make the touchdown-saving tackle. When looking upon further review, P.J. Williams had yanked the facemask of Brandin Cooks slowing him down enough to stop him and this call is actually a loss for the Saints because they could’ve got the ball back with a timeout and about 40 seconds to go for Drew Brees to at least attempt to get some points before the half because the Rams scored a touchdown on the very next play via Todd Gurley.

The refs missed what was probably the second biggest call of the game when Jared Goff scrambled out of pressure and looked like he had a touchdown, but was forced to dive as his split-second hesitation helped Demario Davis and A.J. Klein close in on him. The replay showed that when Goff was trying to run out of the trouble of getting hit hard, A.J. Klein had put his hands in Goff’s helmet affecting his vision and pulled him back a little bit and if it was called it would’ve placed the ball at the 1 yard line and it would’ve been 1st and goal for the Rams.

There’s really no telling how the rest of the game could’ve gone from there.

The blatant no-call

Smart coaches tend to outsmart themselves in certain situations and Sean Payton did just that choosing to pass twice in a situation where the Rams only had two timeouts in the game and a first down would’ve ended the game. The decision to throw on 3rd down made sense from that standpoint, but the decision to throw the ball on 1st down is baffling, forcing Brees to throw on 3rd and 10. He threw a ball to Tommy Lee Lewis, who had broken open after his initial burst despite lining up with Brees, but as he was about to catch the ball Nickell Robey-Coleman blatantly hit Tommy Lee Lewis helmet to helmet without looking back and went full speed knocking Lewis to the ground. Everyone on the Saints sideline was looking for a flag, but the refs said play on and Sean Payton was disgusted as there was no such flag thrown and the game went on as if nothing happened. It also brought up a 4th down that only lead to a field goal that the Rams quickly countered to send the game into overtime so the ending to the game could have been altered sending Drew Brees back to the SuperBowl.

Saints fans and ticket holders have started to sue to get justice and some started a petition that has 737,000 signatures as of today.

The NFL admitted their big blunder and the league office said they were sorry, but the refs could’ve done this is in the first place and it now opens up a debate for next season among the NFL with a potential rule change of pass interference being potentially reviewed next season. Just yesterday, Nickell Robey-Coleman got fined $26,739 by the NFL.

In addition to missing all these easy calls, the refs missed some blatant holding calls on the Rams corners that may have swung the game into the Saints favor. It’s hard to get all the calls right, but it would’ve been nice to see the whistle being blown more especially with the new emphasis on the rules. The NFL must come up with consequences for such missed calls like firings or loss of pay. There are two rules in place where commissioner Roger Goodell can step in and investigate what happened and the first one is that he can declare the game a calamity or call it an unfair act and reschedule the game and give the Saints the 1st and goal with 1:11 to go or play the game all over again. Another part of the second rule allows Goodell the power to reverse the game and put the Saints in the Super Bowl over the Rams, but that shouldn’t seem too likely.

It’s sad to see the Rams not being celebrated at all because they didn’t lead all game and went down 13 and 10 and still found a way to win off of Greg Zuerlein‘s aka Legatron’s leg to advance to the biggest stage of the game, the Super Bowl, just because of something that has become a what-if scenario. The refs do deserve a very tiny bit of credit for not calling pass interference on the play where John Johnson picked off Drew Brees because it didn’t seem as if he was holding due to Micheal Thomas trying too hard to initiate to the contact, and sell the call, which didn’t work.

It’s at least a little bit of a good thing this didn’t happen in the second game as well.

Kansas City Chiefs vs New England Patriots

Index fingers

The Patriots had been doing a great job of getting Patrick Mahomes off the field up to this point, but only held a three-point lead with 9 minutes to go. The Patriots were set to get the ball back after forcing a three and out and Edelman was sent out to receive the punt. Edelman motioned to those blocking for him to get out of the way of the ball as he was going to let it bounce and let the Chiefs down it, but the ball just happened to go to Edelman, who tried to pick it up with his hands, but it bounced off his index finger and the ground before being picked up by Gehrig Dieter for a touchdown, which would’ve been negated and the ball would’ve been given to the Chiefs at the Patriots 28. If there isn’t inconclusive evidence that Edelman didn’t touch the ball then the call on the field should stand and allow the Chiefs to possess the ball and it was quite perplexing to see the officials switch the call.

It didn’t end up having any impact as two plays later Julian Edelman couldn’t handle a pass from Tom Brady and the ball went right off his fingertips into the hands of Daniel Sorensen giving the Chiefs the field position they deserved in the first place. You know what they say, Ball Don’t Lie.

Catch no catch

The refs really showed some bad consistency all night and this was yet another break the Patriots got from the refs. The definition of a catch has become so confusing over the last couple of years that no one really knows what a catch is anymore. It’s a crucial 3rd and 8 with the Patriots down 21-17 and Brady needs to get a 1st down to keep the drive going so he fires a dart to Chris Hogan for 11 yards down the middle of the field, which Hogan reels in with one hand, but as his body is going down and he’s trying to secure the ball it seems that the ball is loose in his hands. Andy Reid rightfully challenged the play, and it seemed that the refs thought that he had established control and the fact that his hands were somewhat under the ball made it a catch. Dez Bryant had a similar situation to this in the NFC Divisional vs the Packers in 2014 and it was ruled a no catch, but it seems the catch rules have become really relaxed because of public outrage.

The biggest controversy surrounding football in recent years just reared it’s ugly head again in yet another big game. If the Chiefs force a punt there, there would’ve been more of a likelihood that they would’ve won.

Pick play

Some of the earlier calls were at least 50-50, but this call was fairly obvious and a big miss by the refs who just stood there and watched it unfold. This is the call that seems to have been missed by everyone because it’s the one that goes heavily uncalled in most situations. The classic pick play that by rule is only allowed up to one yard from the line of scrimmage was happening a couple of yards past it. Everyone does their job well except for Chris Conley, who sets a pick 5 yards down the field on J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty preventing them from getting a tackle or covering Sammy Watkins resulting in Watkins getting an easy catch for 11 yards and getting 27 yards after catch for 38 yards on the play setting the Chiefs up with a 1st and goal from the 2. The way Mahomes was rolling the likelihood of the Chiefs getting points was high and in fact, this call hurt them more in perspective of time management because the longer you keep the ball out of Brady’s hands in late game situations the better.

The refs have to not be scared to make the right call and need to be bold and this is one of the rare instances in this game where swallowing the whistle is not acceptable.

The biggest call of the game was done right as Dee Ford was offsides by a mile even though Patriots left tackle Trenton Brown was in an illegal formation because the offsetting penalties wouldn’t have negated a game-sealing interception by Charvarius Ward when the ball fell right in his lap after being coming off of Rob Gronkowski‘s fingertips due to it being thrown a little too high even for Gronk.

They also got the prior play correct as Chris Hogan catches the ball, but the spin on the ball that Brady delivered it with makes the ball hit the ground before Hogan has the chance to catch it so New York buzzed down and made sure the refs deemed it an incomplete pass. This game was cleaner and the officiating didn’t really come into play until the 4th quarter when the game was on the line. They really let them play as they knew it was gonna be very physical, but it was good to see that the players were able to decide the game except for a couple of bad calls. There was a bad roughing the passer call on Chris Jones, but there was also a pass interference on Charvarius Ward on the same play so no damage was done even though the roughing the passer call was hot garbage. The Chiefs made too many mental mistakes like scoring too fast, Mahomes overthrowing Damien Williams and other receivers all game while having yet another slow start, which was what really cost them the game. Tom Brady deserves his due for converting key third downs with sharp passes down the middle to Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan until Rex Burkhead finished the job in overtime even managing to get Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton fired. The officiating is here to stay at least for another game, but the youth vs the dynasty should be a fun matchup so enjoy the New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl because it could easily be another all-time classic unless the refs have something else up their sleeve.

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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images

 

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