Controversial Late Game Calls just Par for the Course for Incompetent Officials
So there's been some talk today about two dubious calls that aided the Patriots furious comeback in yesterday's win over the Browns. Justifiably too, as even the biggest Patriots homer knows deep down that they would be absolutely livid if those calls went against the Pats in a similar situation.
Actually, come to think of it, we know that for a fact. We've experienced it this season. Twice.
However, the two calls in question merely capped off a truly incompetent day from Head Official Jerome Boger and his crew. We all know that NFL officiating is an incredibly tough job and that it's unreasonable to expect a human crew to get every call right, but yesterday's game was a shocking display of ineptitude from start to finish.
When I say "from start to finish", I mean that quite literally, as the blunders started with the game's first possession. On second and eight, Donta Hightower sniffed out a quick pass to the sidelines, immediately wrapping up Greg Little and clearly ripping the ball from his hands before the receiver had hit the ground. The play was inexiplicably blown dead with the ball on the ground, negating a certain Cleveland turnover. The Browns would kick a field goal one play later, taking a 3-0 lead in the game.
The zebras wouldn't make another call that impactful until the game's end, but they continued to make baffling calls throughout the game. There was a bogus false start called on the Browns Jordan Cameron, despite the tight end staying completely still in his stance. There was no flag when Danny Amendola was tackled with a pass coming his way in the air. There was Willis McGahee 3rd and 1 run that was comically ruled no gain, before a Cleveland challenge changed the ruling to a 2 yard gain and a first down. Seriously, how do you mess up a spot on third down by 2 freaking yards?
There was Tom Brady getting flagged for intentional grounding, despite the pass landing inches from LeGarrette Blount's feet (this flag was negated, but it was still an embarrassment that it was thrown in the first place). There was Jason Campbell, also getting flagged for intention grounding despite being well out of the tackle box AND having a receiver in the general vicinity.
At this time, let me remind you that yesterday's official Jerome Boger was selected to officiate last season's Super Bowl, but only after the league mysteriously changed the grades on his 2012 performance. Boger's crew had a poor performance on the game's biggest stage, highlighted (lowlighted?) by a laughable failure to even penalize Baltimore's Cary Williams for shoving an official. Blowing calls is nothing new for this guy.
But I digress, let's get to those two controversial late calls. Those calls will naturally get most of the attention, as they occurred at the end of the game and therefore made a much more obvious impact on the outcome. However, both calls were emblematic of the problems the league has had with enforcing the rules against pass interference and unnecessary roughness, as well as a continuance of Boger and co's overall poor performance.
We'll start with the unnecessary roughness call against Cleveland's Josh Poyer, as it was the first foul to occur. This simply was a bad call, as the Cleveland safety put a hard shoulder directly into the chest/shoulder of Julian Edelman. The league puts it's officials in a tough position here, as they are instructed to throw the flag if they suspect helmet to helmet contact. Edelman's head was jolted back a bit by the intensity of the hit, leading the official to throw the flag.
Phantom roughness penalties are unfortunately not uncommon in today's NFL, as the league and it's officials are hyper-sensitive to helmet-to-helmet hits (but only on "defenseless" receivers and quarterbacks, if you're a running back you're sh*t outta luck). Perhaps the theory of having a centralized replay system could help eliminate blunders of this nature, as a replay official could quickly check whether the principle point of contact was the head.
Either way, there's no denying that the Patriots benefited from getting 15 free yards on the ensuing kickoff. As a result, the Patriots set up their onside kick from the 50 yard line, ultimately recovering the ball on the Cleveland 40. One quick 10 yard pass to Danny Amendola was all it took to set up the game's next controversy.
This, of course, was the pass interference call on Cleveland's Leon McFadden. Because pass interference is a spot foul, the ball was placed on the one yard line, setting up a 1st and Goal. The Patriots would score the game winning touchdown on the next play with a Brady pass to Amendola.
There was some hand fighting by both McFadden and Josh Boyce as the two raced down the sideline for Brady's deep pass, something that occurs on just about every deep ball in the NFL. Once the two reach the end zone, Boyce extends his arms for the ball, which wound up juuuuuust glancing off of his fingertips, while McFadden's arm rode his shoulder through the play.
Can you make an argument for pass interference? Yes, there is contact with the ball in the air. Is it a bit of a ticky tack call, especially considering the circumstances? Yes, clearly.
Former Head of Officiating Mike Pereira disagreed with the call, claiming that there wasn't enough contact to justify calling pass interference. However, his main grievance was with the rule itself, which gives the officials the power to decidedly swing a game on a judgement call. He cites the college rule, which makes DPI a 15 yard penalty, eliminating the chance for a team get excessively penalized for a borderline call.
Like unneccessary roughness, the NFL rules on defensive pass interference are incredibly hard to enforce. It's a vague, subjective call that is expected to be made by a snap judgement at live speed. The Browns are hardly the first nor the last team to be on the wrong side of a questionable ruling of these calls.
In short, both defensive pass interference and unnecessary roughness are problematic rules that will continue to cause controversy for the league until they are addressed and adjusted in some way. However, that shouldn't get Boger's crew off the hook for one of the most poorly officiated games I've seen in years.