Some people remember this Thanksgiving for what RG3 did to Dallas. Me? I remember it for what officials did to Detroit ... which is blow a call that shafted the Lions. OK, OK, so Lions coach Jim Schwartz blew it by forgetting the rules and preventing a replay from occurring that would have corrected the error.
I get that. But let's be honest: That doesn't happen if officials get the call right. And they didn't.
But they haven't all season. When the lockout ended, fans welcomed the return of veteran officials, thinking they'd right the wrongs of replacement refs and everyone would live happily ever after. Except everyone hasn't, and I offer this weekend as an example. There wasn't anything as bad as the Detroit game, but there was turmoil elsewhere ... and for good reason.
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Officials just aren't having a good season.
There were at least four incidents that I witnessed where I thought officials blew the calls, including the game-changing play in Baltimore's 16-13 defeat of San Diego. So I reached out to Mike Pereira, the former NFL director of officiating who now works as a rules specialist for Fox, and asked what he thought -- and here's what he said:
1. The Ray Rice catch-and-run. You've seen the play a zillion times by now. It's fourth-and-29, Baltimore trails by three and the Ravens are down to their last gasp. On the Baltimore sideline, linebacker Terrell Suggs admits he was "thinking we needed a miracle," and it's his lucky day. He gets his wish. Rice catches a short pass over the middle, weaves around and through San Diego defenders and somehow, some way, gains 30 yards for a first down to set up a game-tying field goal. Only he didn't. Not from where I was sitting, he didn't. Replays seemed to show that Rice's knees were down just as the ball crossed the San Diego 35, leaving him short of a first down. Referee Gene Steratore, however, spotted it at the 33-and-a-half, moving it closer to the 34 after watching replays. But he still kept it inside the hash -- a yard beyond where it should have been. San Diego was incensed, and it should've been -- at itself. There's no way there should have been a replay of anything when it's fourth-and-29, but the Chargers were in the giving mood. So they allowed Rice to go 28-and-three-quarters yards ... only officials made it 30. A mistake?
"The thing I always say with progress plays with relation to first downs," said Pereira, "is that unless there's clear evidence of a definite line, it's hard to move the ball. I can make a case for having his knee short of the line, but I can't prove it. I guess I might wonder why they moved the ball when I'm not sure where there's a spot to move it to."
The call took nine minutes to sort out, which Pereira rightly described as "ludicrous." Replays are supposed to be handled within one to two minutes. Granted, there were injuries that occurred on the play (the Chargers' Eric Weddle suffered a concussion when he was hammered by Anquan Boldin) that slowed everything down. But the time it took to sort this out tells me something ... and it tells me officials weren't sure what they were seeing.
"I guess my questions would be: Why did it take so long?" said Pereira, "and why did you move [the ball]?"
When officials first signaled a first down, the crew in charge of the sideline markers moved them 10 yards forward, something critics said affected -- and corrupted -- the later measurement. Not so, said Pereira, because there's a clip attached to the chain that sits on a yard line, and it isn't removed until the first snap of the subsequent series. That tag would've allowed for officials to relocate the chains accurately, which they did. But it's not the placement of the chains that was in error; it was the placement of the ball.
There was also a contention that Boldin clipped Weddle on the play and should've been called for the foul. "No way," said Pereira.
2. Earl Thomas' roughing the passer call. The Seahawks cling to a seven-point lead when Miami drives to the Seattle 7, and Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes a snap and rolls right. Under pressure, he throws back to the middle of the end zone ... and finds his receiver. Only it's not Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano; it's the Seahawks' Bobby Wagner with a clutch interception. Only it's not ... and it's not because officials rule that Thomas, who blitzed the pocket from his safety position, hit Tannehill in the head, drawing a roughing-the-passer call, overruling the interception and giving Miami the ball first-and-goal at the 3. One play later, the game was tied. Thomas was incensed, and I can see why. He jumped to block the pass and landed on the quarterback. But he didn't hammer him in the head.
"Tannehill was out of the pocket," said Pereira, "and you have to remember that, when the quarterback leaves the pocket, he does lose certain protections ... but one thing you don't lose is contact to the head. You have to remember what these guys are told, and that's that even if officials think [the infraction] is questionable, they're supposed to call the foul if they think there's contact with the head. Now, is it the worst I've ever seen? No. But with what officials are told, they err on the side of caution ... because that's what they're all supposed to do. If there's contact and it's made to the head, they're supposed to call a foul. So I don't think I'd say the call was poor."
3. Randy Moss and a blatant offensive pass-interference that wasn't called. This wasn't Golden Tate in Seattle ... but it was close. The 49ers were up by seven and driving for a game-clinching touchdown midway through the fourth quarter when Colin Kaepernick dropped back and lobbed a pass to the left corner of the end zone for Moss. It was supposed to be a fade to Moss, with the wide receiver outjumping the Saints' Malcolm Jenkins, only the ball was underthrown ... with Jenkins in perfect position to make the interception. And he would have, if Moss hadn't pulled him to the turf. No call was made, and the Saints were outraged. They should have been. They got jobbed.
"The hardest thing about pass interference is that it's so inconsistently called," said Pereira, "because it's such a tough call to make. It's the hardest call on the field to make. You have all the moving parts of pass interference, and then you add to that the ball's on the move, and you're on the move ... it's unbelievably tough. So, should the one with Moss have been called? I think anyone who watched it agreed it should."
There was another pass-interference penalty in the Chicago-Minnesota game that I thought was blown, too. That was when the Bears' Brandon Marshall and cornerback Antoine Winfield went up for a high Jay Cutler pass in the end zone ... with a flag thrown immediately after contact. Both players cheered the call; only one would be wrong.
It was Winfield, even though replays showed Marshall clearly shoved him to one side before leaping for the ball.
"To me," said Pereira, "you make a judgment decision, and I would've just walked away [without making a call]. Remember, we're so good at making decisions after seeing the play three or four times, but these calls are so hard to make ... so there's going to be some inconsistency. If you're telling me there should've been offensive pass interference, I think I would have just left it alone [without making a call] instead."