Late in Minnesota’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens during Sunday’s early round of games, the Vikings thought they had the game finally wrapped up. A Joe Flacco pass had been intercepted, and without enough times out to save the clock, the Vikings could have took a few knees, ending the game.
But then, just when the Vikings were ready to celebrate a hard-fought victory, the officials took it away, calling a very touchy pass interference penalty that would set up the Ravens for their winning touchdown. It was a punch in the gut for a team that’s experienced little success this season.
Earlier in the day, the Bengals were awarded a touchdown on a play that seemed clear cut. On the play, BenJarvus Green-Ellis seemed to be tripped up by a Colts defender. Although he stretched for the goal line as he fell to the ground, his knees were clearly down before the ball broke the plane of the endzone. As fate would have it, Jeff Triplette, the referee that was blasted for his crew’s poor handling of the down and distance late in the Giants’ victory over the Redskins just a week ago.
With questionable, or in some cases downright terrible, calls flooding through the NFL each week, we have to wonder if the NFL can do better. Is there anything the league could do to ensure that its officials get the call right more often?
If we take a step back to the official lockout of a year ago, it becomes evident the NFL is doing something to ensure the games move as quickly as possible while maintaining a high level of accuracy from its officials. During the official lockout, officials often appeared confused, and it wasn’t rare to see the game administered inappropriately. The headline incident, the “Fail Mary” that led to the Packers’ loss to the Seahawks, seemed to push the NFL to resolve the lockout. Still, problems remain.
Jeff Triplette may have seen something we all failed to miss when he handed the Bengals a touchdown. For example, maybe the officials called Green-Ellis down because they thought he was touched while on the ground. If that was the case, considering there was no clear evidence he was tripped by a defender, Triplette may have made the correct decision.
When administering penalties such as the pass interference that handed the Ravens a touchdown on a silver platter, it’s hard to argue for better than is currently displayed by the NFL. There are measures of accountability that make sure the best officials are handling the biggest games such as the Super Bowl. At field level, the game is much different than the angles most of us see each Sunday, and everything happens in fractions of a second.
But during reviews, the NFL can, and should do better. Instead of having only one official casting the only vote that matters, why can’t the replay official and the referee on the field discuss the play and come to a consensus. If they can’t agree in a reasonable amount of time, the play should stand. Would that really slow the game down? Probably not.
In reality, the NFL puts officials on the field each Sunday that are more than competent. Could I do better? Could you, the reader, do any better? No, not in most cases. Every once in a while, we’ll see a call that’s just wrong, and there’s no way to defend such a call. In those cases, we do sometimes hear the NFL say, “Hey, the officials screwed up.” Then, we move on.
Sure, the NFL could put into place systems that allow officials to get the calls right far more often, but do you feel like sitting through reviews of holding calls or pass interference reviews? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like watching five hour football games simply because the officials are under the hood more often than not. The NFL isn’t doing a perfect job ensuring accuracy on the field, but to say there’s enormous room for improvement is a bit of an overreaction. When an official makes a great call that most of us would miss, they may get a short compliment from the broadcasters, but you’ll never see a headline that reads, “Super Bowl XLVIII highlighted by near-perfect officiating.”
Most of the times, the NFL’s officials do a good job administering the game without directly deciding the game’s outcome, and that’s about the most we can realistically ask from a group of people just trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
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