has been a lot of debate about the NFL replay system. Claims that
the officiating isnít as sharp, that the officials are hesitant,
and coaches like Brian Billick sounding off about the way decisions
are made. To put it mildly, there have been some difficult moments.
Added to the problems are the amazing options of plays that arenít
reviewable, the down by contact contingency, and the ever-popular
ďthe whistle had blownĒ excuse.
itís me. Maybe Iím ignorant to the rules. Maybe my recliner doesnít
show me all the views I need to understand what happened. Maybe
on Sunday, November 9th, the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh
Steelers took part in a game with one reviewed play that stands
out as the shining example of everything that is wrong with the
system. Hereís what happened:
score is 28-9 Pittsburgh, early in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals
had moved the ball to the Pittsburgh five-yard line, where they
had a first and goal. On fourth down, Jeff Blake threw a pass
to Bryant Johnson right on the goal line. The initial call was
that he didnít score, so the Cardinals challenged the ruling.
we continue with what happened with the review, letís consider
the situation. Arizona was essentially expecting one of two outcomes:
the play could stand. Arizona turns the ball over on downs and
Pittsburgh takes over virtually on the goal line.
the play could be overturned, giving Arizona six points and pulling
them within thirteen of Pittsburgh. It could end up even closer
depending on the extra point or a two-point conversion, and there
would still be just over ten minutes to go in the game.
at home, those were the only options, right? I mean, as a coach,
you either win or lose the challenge. The play standsÖ turn over
on downs. Or, the result is changedÖ touchdown Arizona. My expectations
(and yours) couldnít have differed much from that of Dave McGinnis.
Right? Ok, back to the challengeÖ
Jeff Triplette ruled that Johnson had, in fact, caught the ball
in the end zone. But this was the series of events he set forth:
(1) Johnson was forced out of bounds during the play by a defender.
(2) Johnson came back on the field and did re-establish his position.
(3) Johnson caught the pass in the end zone. (4) By rule, because
Johnson had left the field of play, he was ineligible to touch
the ball first.
result? Not a touchdown, but a five-yard penalty against the Cardinals
and a chance to try again from the ten-yard line.
some will say that since the original call was that they hadnít
scored, Arizona was fortunate to get what amounted to a fifth
chance to score. But that would be misguided. Triplette said the
man had caught the ball in the end zone. The ruling found another
option. Not touchdown. Not no touchdown. A previously uncalled
the NFL on the same day, there was a touchdown called on a play
where the receiver never came down in the field of play. He was
pushed out, and the referee ruled he would have caught the ball
for a touchdown if he hadnít been pushed. Thatís nothing that
hasnít been done before. In fact, there were several sideline
calls on this Sunday alone where non-scoring receptions were allowed
when a defender pushed the player out of bounds.
the rules really so clear that, after saying the defender pushed
Johnson out of bounds, after saying that he re-established his
position on the field of play, the referee can then call a five-yard
penalty on the offense during a challenge review? Perhaps itís
me, but I have never seen a penalty called after a play was reviewed.
brings me back to the excuses. See, if Iím mistaken about all
this, and this episode was handled properly, then there are far
too many others that arenít. The penalty itself wasnít called
during the original play. If it hadnít been challenged, the ball
was not going out to the ten-yard line. It was going to the one-inch
line and being turned over to Pittsburgh.
exactly how does the league defend a down-by-contact ruling? If
instant replay and reviews based on a challenge can reveal that
Bryant Johnson was forced out of bounds and as such was an ineligible
receiver, then they certainly can show if a ball carrier was down
before he fumbled after the fact. If they can admit they missed
a penalty, they can admit they missed a fumble or tackle. Right?
week three Indianapolis played Jacksonville. Dallas Clark of the
Colts has the ball and he gets decked not by one, but by two Jaguar
defenders approaching from opposite directions. He got hit high
and low, and was thrown into the air and spun almost three-hundred
and sixty degrees. About three feet before Clark hits the ground,
the ball is out of his hands. Itís crystal clear, right on my
television set, again and again and again as replay after replay
is shown. But itís not a fumble. Ruled down by contact.
week number five Detroit played San Francisco. Jeff Garcia goes
back and loses the football. The play is ruled an incomplete pass.
Replays seemed to show the ball came out of Garciaís hand before
he began the throwing motion, which would be a fumble, not an
incomplete pass. Detroit is not allowed to challenge the call.
The reason given? The Lions had not caught the ball, and it was
ruled an incomplete pass. Therefore, they could not challenge
it being a fumble.
Iím missing something and the explanations either arenít clear
or I donít understand what they are trying to describe. So, try
explaining this one. In at least two different games on Sunday,
November 9th, the referee stopped play to ask that the clock be
reset. Iíve seen it before this season. The game between the Oakland
Raiders and New York Jets goes into overtime. During the coin
flip, the referee explains how the overtime will be handled like
the fourth quarter of the game, going on to explain timeouts and
instant replay reviews. About three minutes into the overtime,
New York is on their game-winning drive. Santana Moss runs out
of bounds on one play. LaMont Jordan runs out of bounds on the
next play. And on the corner of my screen, the clock kept running.
Is that clock showing the same time the referees should see? And
if so, even though in overtime, doesnít the clock stop when the
ball goes out of bounds?
Weaver once said that umpires get about ninety-nine percent of
the calls right. But considering the hundreds of calls in every
game, and hundreds of thousands of calls that take place during
the season, he wasnít going to stop short of pushing them toward
perfection when so many calls were wrong.
the National Football League, it is fairly obvious that the officiating
is not today what it was just a few seasons ago. And it isnít
all a result of super slow-motion, intense high-definition replays
being shown over and over again to the fans, pointing out the
most minute details and causing the officiating crews to pause.
Instead itís a set-up that allows for almost an arbitrary set
of a-challenge-is-alright-here-but-not-here rules.
Johnson ran into the end zone on fourth down from the five-yard
line. If he was pushed out of bounds by the defender in the end
zone, he was also beyond the five yards for legal contact. And
the referee said the defender shoved him out of bounds. But I
guess they missed that in the replay when they were watching the
other penalty that they missed in real time but ultimately did
call after review.