BOSTON — It feels like it’s been a while since America has gotten a full-fledged botch job from an NFL officiating crew on a prime-time game. Referee Brad Allen and his officiating crew in Green Bay made up for that absence in spades on Sunday night.
While officiating any sport is challenging, the final drive of the Packers’ 27-19 win over the Chiefs featured at least three egregious wrong calls that had the NFL world up in arms late on a Sunday night.
Patrick Mahomes hit in bounds; Defender penalized for personal foul
Everybody knows that you can’t really touch a quarterback. But when the quarterback is a runner? And he’s in bounds? That’s a rare instance when Patrick Mahomes is fair game to be hit.
At least, in theory.
In practice, despite the fact that Mahomes had yet to step out of bounds while fighting for a first down when Jonathan Owens delivered a heavy hit on the QB.
And make no mistake: Mahomes was very clearly still in the field of play.
The officials closest to the play did not throw a flag. But it looked like field judge Rick Patterson came in from a long way up the sideline to confidently tell Allen that the hit was delivered late and out of bounds. Allen looked like he had some doubt; Patterson did not.
The official was, of course, wrong. Nevertheless, Allen stepped to the middle of Lambeau Field and made the regretful announcement: “After the play was over, personal foul, unnecessary roughness, defense, number 34. Fifteen yards, automatic first down.”
It was the “after the play” part of it that really drove home how bad of a call it was. NBC’s rules analyst Terry McAulay was apoplectic.
“Cris, this is absolutely not a foul,” McAulay said. “The competition committee, two years in a row, has talked about points of emphasis, points of clarification. If he’s trying to gain yardage, he’s gotta get himself out of bounds. He didn’t. He’s in bounds. This is not a personal foul. Should not have been called.”
The penalty moved the ball from the Kansas City 40 to the Green Bay 45. With Kansas City needing a touchdown and having little time to drive toward the end zone, those were some big yards awarded on a missed call. But it wouldn’t end up being the worst mistake the officiating crew made on this drive.
Missed pass interference penalty on Carrington Valentine against Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Two plays after the personal foul, this happened:
Despite Valentine going for a piggyback on Valdes-Scantling well before the ball arrived, the officials on the field did not throw a flag for one of the more obvious cases of defensive pass interference. (The officials closest to the play would have been Patterson again, and back judge Greg Yette.)
McAulay reacted: “This is a foul. He’s playing through the back. This is defensive pass interference.”
Except, well, in this case, it wasn’t. For whatever reason.
Many viewers saw this as a makeup call, negating that personal foul penalty which never should have been called. But that’s … a rosy explanation. For one, officials in any sport will tell you that they get judged and graded for each individual call, so a makeup call would only hurt their own grades. And secondly … are the officials good enough to accurately make non-calls in the moment to make up for calls they screwed up moments earlier? It feels unlikely.
The likelier explanation here: The officials screwed up. Badly.
This was a more egregious miss by the crew, as it would have given the Chiefs a first down at the 7-yard line, with three or four chances to try to score a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game.
Alas, there was more.
Forward progress out of bounds ruled for Valdes-Scantling
In order for the clock to stop when a ball carrier goes out of bounds, that ball carrier has to be moving forward, toward the opponent’s end zone, via his own momentum. If a defender stops a ball carrier and forces the runner backward or sideways while moving him out of bounds, then the clock continues to run. Everybody knows this, right?
Down judge Sarah Thomas had a different interpretation of the rule, though, as she ruled that Valdes-Scantling was … moving forward while going out of bounds, when that was quite clearly not the case.
See for yourself:
That call is … insane.
Had Thomas properly officiated that moment, the clock would have been running with 19 seconds left in the game. The Chiefs, who had no timeouts, would have had to rush to the line and spike the ball with, say, 10 seconds left? Instead, the clock stopped, giving the Chiefs 19 seconds to work with at the end of the game. They ended up running four plays after that call.
Missed 10-second runoff after fumble call overturned
Right after the hit on Mahomes, one of the craziest plays of the weekend took place. The officials might have gotten so caught up in it that they forgot to enforce the rules.
It came when Rashee Rice was taken down at the end of a 10-yard catch-and-run. As he was tackled, the ball popped loose, landing in the hands of Corey Ballentine. The defensive back returned it 68 yards for a defensive score. However, replay showed that Rice’s butt was on the ground before he lost control of the football, thus overturning the call on the field. (We have no criticisms of the call on the field, as the officials did the right thing by letting a close play run to its conclusion.)
However, with the call on the field being overturned, the officials should have run 10 seconds off the clock. Here’s the language, straight from the NFL rulebook: “If a replay review after the two-minute warning of either half results in the on-field ruling being reversed and the correct ruling would not have stopped the game clock, or would have otherwise restarted the game clock before the next snap, the officials will run 10 seconds off the game clock and reset the play clock to 30 seconds before permitting the ball to be put in play on the ready for play signal.”
In this case, Rice was tackled with 50 seconds left in the game. While some hullabaloo involving Isaiah Pacheco getting ejected for throwing a punch during that fumble return likely distracted the officiating crew on the field, neither the replay official nor Walt Anderson’s team in the replay center in New York informed the officials that the clock should be run down to 40 seconds.
(The reason for that rule is simple. Had Rice been ruled down on the play, the Chiefs would have had to rush to the line to run their next play. Ergo, there’s no reason why the clock should remain at 50 seconds, considering it was an officiating error that allowed the clock to be wrongly manipulated in the first place. The, which actually felt like a severe punishment. But the rule is well-established.)
When Allen made his announcement, he made no mention of the clock. After the Chiefs lined up, for their next play, Allen stopped it to change the clock to 50 seconds. As far as the rulebook states, that was incorrect.
In a way, this was the worst mistake from Allen, and the replay official, and Anderson in New York. While judgment calls in real-time can be difficult to make, this was a simple administrative rule that should have been easily enforced during the process of replay review. Somehow, though, the situation resulted in Allen giving the Chiefs 10 extra seconds to try to mount the game-tying drive.
Missed PI against Travis Kelce on Hail Mary?
This one … well, if you’ve watched a football game before, then you know that pass interference is not called on Hail Mary plays. It just isn’t. You can disagree with the logic, you can say it’s wrong to have a different set of rules for that play, and you can send a letter to your local congressperson about changing the state of affairs. But that won’t change the present-day reality that barring a full-on Bobby Boucher dropkick, officials are not going to throw a penalty flag for pass interference when there’s pushing and shoving in the end zone on a Hail Mary. (Talk to Patriots fans about Chris Hogan getting absolutely cleaned out long before even getting to the end zone at the end of Super Bowl LII if you want to discuss non-calls on Hail Mary plays.)
Nevertheless, the NBC broadcast crew spent a lot of time dissecting a potential pass interference penalty committed against Travis Kelce in the end zone on Mahomes’ final heave.
Kelce was gently shoved. Had this been a normal play in the course of the game, taking place in the open field, it would have surely been called a penalty. (Well, the Valdes-Scantling non-call may have something to say about that.)
But it was a Hail Mary, so no flag was thrown.
It’s unknown how upset viewers were by this non-call, but the broadcast sure spent a lot of time debating and dissecting it.
Most people understood why that wasn’t flagged, because calling pass interference on a Hail Mary would effectively turn the Hail Mary into the easiest, most successful play in the sport. (That is, unless Tim Boyle is involved.)
Nevertheless, after a final drive littered with officiating miscues and botch jobs, it did feel right for the game to end in a debate about the officials.
Now, we can all wait to hear from the officiating crew and from head of officiating Walt Anderson on why the calls were so badly missed, and what levels of accountability the league will hold the officials to going forward. Let’s all begin holding our breath, starting … now.
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