Ask the Official: Year-end Review

It always amazes and disappoints me when I read the comments of many on Monday mornings regarding the alleged mistakes made by the officials in games played the previous day.

In many (but not all) instances, the comments reflect a lack of knowledge on the part of the commenter of the rules or how the NFL wants certain rules interpreted.

Now this is not to absolve the officials who are human and will make mistakes. I know that I made some in 42 years on the field and there is not an official alive who would not like to have certain calls over again. But unlike the members of the media or the contributors to certain websites, the officials have to live with the calls that they made in real time and they do.

Let’s take a look at a few of the calls that have garnered significant attention from Week 17’s games.

First, the Giants – Redskins game. Early in the 1st quarter, Damontre Moore is chasing the Redskins QB towards the near sideline and he throws the ball forward and out of bounds. The previous LOS was the Redskins 46 and the ball lands on an equipment trunk at about the 44-45 yard line. Had the trunk not been there, it probably would have landed at around the 46. Although this (non-) call was marginal, given where it landed I have no problem with the fact that it was not Intentional grounding as the LOS for this purpose extends outside the playing field.

Later in the same game, the Redskins punt the ball and as it rolls to a stop, it is kicked forward and out of bounds by a Redskins player.  The officials appropriately throw a flag for Illegal Kicking and march off the foul from the spot where the ball went out of bounds.

There are multiple options here. The Giants could have had the play replayed with a 10 yard foul at the previous spot, declined the foul and taken the first touching by the Redskins, or accepted the 10 yard foul from the end of the kick which in this case was the spot where the ball went out of bounds as it was not possessed by either team prior to leaving the field of play.

[By the way, it was not Delay of Game as both Dick Stockton and Ronde Barber initially indicated.] Although I am not privy to the discussion on the sideline between Referee  Bill Vinovich and Tom Coughlin, the Giants obviously elected to take the 10 yard penalty from the out of bounds spot.

A third incident occurred in the Bears – Packers game when Rogers was hit while attempting to pass and the ball went forward and hit the ground only to be (eventually) picked up and run in for a TD by a Packers receiver.   This play appeared to confuse virtually everybody expect the Packers sideline. When Rogers was hit and the ball came free, Referee Clete Blakeman immediately threw his bean bag indicating it was a fumble (which was later upheld by Replay).

In an excellent display of officiating, no official blew his whistle while the ball continued to move along the ground and after it was picked up by the Packers. As the ball never fully came to rest this was an excellent example of great officiating by a crew that has had a less than stellar season so far and they should be complimented.

Finally, we have the KC – San Diego game. There are two calls in this game that are receiving scrutiny. The first is when a SD player (may have) fumbled on a run following a fake punt but the play was blown dead by one of the wing officials who ruled forward progress and the runback of the fumble was nullified. The second was the crew’s failure to enforce the new rule regarding the number of players who can line up on either side of the center on a KC field goal try that was missed.

In the first instance, forward progress is a judgment call and I will not comment regarding such a decision. It is impossible for anyone to fully appreciate what the wing officials see in such a situation and I will live with their judgment. In the second instance, the crew erred and the NFL has admitted as such. A five yard penalty should have been called and KC should have had a chance to retry the Field Goal. How such an error could be made other than the officials having a brain cramp is beyond me.

However, we need to look at which officials are responsible for such a call. In 7 man mechanics, the Umpire and Side Judge are behind the defensive line and are responsible for counting the players and the subsequent line play. The Referee counts the offense and has the action on the kicker and holder.

I have read in multiple “boards” that the fault lay with Bill Leavy, the Referee. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fault lay with members of Bill Leavy’s crew, not the Referee himself. There is no way that Leavy could (or should) have seen either play and he could not “over rule” the covering officials in any event. It needs to be remembered that officiating is a crew effort and in most instances it is not the Referee who made the mistake (if there is one), but a member of that crew.

Having said all that. it will be interesting to see which crews get the 10 play-off games and which officials are selected to work the Super Bowl. From what I have seen, the crews of Bill Leavy, Carl Chaffers, Clete Blakeman, and Mike Carey have had less than stellar seasons while those of Gene Steratore, Terry McAuley, John Parry, and Bill Vinovich have had relatively good seasons.

Although I am not privy to the grades handed out by the NFL after each game, I would not be surprised if Steratore or Vinovich are the Referee for the Super Bowl.  At least we will not have the controversy that occurred last year when Jerome Boger was assigned as the Super Bowl  Referee.

I also do not think that there will be many rule changes during the off season as there is general satisfaction with the rules as they stand although there may be some minor tweaks to further ensure safety, such as making illegal hits to the head reviewable as they are in the NCAA.

One thing I would like to see is revision to and enforcement of the rule of assisting the runner to stop the linemen from pushing the runners from behind into the end zone or down the field. We may also see the retirement of a number of officials (last year only 2 retired) with at least one new white hat as Scott Green has announced his retirement.

Enjoy the play-offs and have a wonderful 2014.

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