Suttons “Block” on the Virgil Touchdown
Denver had one really awesome play offensively in the game, the 66 yard touchdown pass to Jalen Virgil. During it, Cortland Sutton had an amazing looking block on Tennessee defender Terrence Mitchel, where he gets ahead of him and slows down with his hands up to effectively block the runner out of the play. This was a great play by Sutton, and probably the only way to make that block work at the pro level. At lower levels of football receivers commonly make an actual block in these situations. We rarely see this at the pros because it requires that the blocker have superior athleticism to the defender by a margin that doesn’t happen professionally. What happened was legal, and it would have also been a legal block as long as Sutton initiated with his hands and from the side or front. The NFL has a reputation for being a No Fun League, but plays like this are a great example of where the NFL tries to encourage insanely impressive athleticism when doing so does not increase danger.
Twelve on the Field No Call
With 2:59 left in the game, Tennessee lined up to kick a field goal. Because they substituted, Denver had the reasonable opportunity to complete their substitution. In the judgement of referee Scott Lynch, that was not completed before Denver had noticed they had twelve on the field and sent one player off. While this was a bit unusual, it was both legal and proper. The rulebook makes clear that while twelve players cannot be tolerated, proper officiating should take significant efforts to prevent this from happening, instead of penalizing it when it happens. The NFL rulebook even makes clear that offensive attempts to deliberately get twelve defenders on the field at the snap will be regarded as an offensive penalty. In short, the NFL does not want penalties for twelve on the field, and absolutely doesn’t want plays with twelve on the field.
Would You Call A Penalty
Is this a penalty?
Yes: Holding - Offense # 78
Yes: Holding - Defense #21
Yes: Double Foul
No: No Foul
The announcers made a big deal of what appeared to be a Melvin Gordon fumble which was ruled down on the play, and were surprised Tennessee did not challenge it. They were incorrect to think this. The play was blown dead immediately, there was no recovery, and there were players from both teams engaged in the area. Assuming that the replay officials were convinced that Gordon did fumble before he was down, there was almost no likelihood of them ruling a Tennessee recovery. Challenging here would be asking the officials to rule their way on two different non-obvious matters. That can happen with challenges, but it would have been a very risky gamble.
At the end of the game, Wilson fumbled on a sack and it appeared that Tennessee recovered it. The announcers disagreed with the ruling on the field that Denver had recovered the ball, and it was a challengeable ruling. The ruling on the field was almost certainly correct, so the booth was wise to not ask for further review. However, if the play had been outside of two minutes, Tennessee should have definitely challenged it, as a very small chance of the review going their way would have been worth the gamble.
Denver did not have any obvious situations where they should have challenged during the game.
There was one booth challenge, right near the end of the first half, and it was an interesting play. Tennessee completes a pass well beyond the sticks, but the receiver rolls back to approximately the line to gain before a Denver player touches him. There is a tendency to think that a player would get forward progress to the spot of the catch, but forward progress only applies to moving backwards involuntarily because of the opponent. Officials give a lot of benefit of the doubt on plays like this and call forward progress more often than we probably should, but this play was obviously not forward progress eligible. The challenge was to check if the spot that Denver cornerback Damarri Mathis touched receiver Robert Woods was beyond the line to gain, because the official appeared to have spotted it generously. It was worth the review, and also not worth overturning.
Worst Call of the Day
The worst call of the day was on the first drive of the game. Down Judge Derick Bowers called newly arrived Denver pass rusher Jacob Martin for defensive offsides on a third down sack. The neutral zone is the length of the football at rest, and while Martin clearly moved before the snap, its also clear he did not enter the neutral zone. This was a disappointing start to the game.
This was a really well-officiated game. I thought the spotting of the ball, penalty calls, and judgment calls were all reasonable. The crew made only two calls that I disagreed with, and only had a few borderline calls. At several times, and especially in the second half, officials visibly used their bodies to get into tense situations and diffuse potential fights without resorting to penalty flags. My only real concern is that there were an unusually large number of offsides and false start flags. Every one of these, except for the first, was a correct call. However, the sheer number makes me believe that the officials could have handled these better - likely by having a conversation with the teams, though there are other preventative officiating strategies that could work. The officiating was certainly above the baseline that we should expect at the professional level.