Sam Darnold’s rolling touchdown in the third quarter exhibited a hidden use of replay in the NFL. Line judge Maia Chaka did not signal one way or the other on the play. She clearly came in shy of the goal line to imply that the ball was down short of the goal, but did not signal it that way (one hand raised). Instead she had a discussion with other officials, culminating in a ruling of a touchdown. There is no other official who was likely to have a good view of the relevant factor on that play. Fortunately for the officials, the replay booth quickly and correctly ruled that Darnold was not touched before scoring. These hidden uses of replay have become quite common over the last few years, and they are clearly to the benefit of the game.
Sutton Unnecessary Roughness
In the 3rd quarter Courtland Sutton was called for unnecessary roughness for shoving Jaycee Horn down out of bounds. This was technically a correct call, but the egregious illegal use of hands from Horn absolutely needed to be called. This was too easy of a call to get right for field judge James Coleman to have missed.
Facemask By the Runner
Part way through the third quarter, Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard stiff-armed Pat Surtain and got his hand into Surtain’s facemask. He clearly twisted the facemask slightly in this action. Technically this should have been called a personal foul facemask. This is not something that officials would call on a runner unless it was horrific, so the no-call was a good move.
There were no challenges in the game, and no obviously challengeable calls, Probably the most challengeable call was the Kendal Hinton trap/catch late in the game. A challenge had a low probability of working, but there was a chance. There were many reviews called from the field to the replay booth. Referee Clay Martin and his crew had a lot of confidence in replay official Brian Matoren, and they used him both informally and formally to correct a number of hard calls. The Wilson fumble is a good example of this.
Following a great Murray run, Russell Wilson was hit as he threw the ball. The initial ruling on the field was a fumble recovered by the defense. The officials reviewed and allowed the play to stand as called. This was probably a mechanics ruling – the officials are encouraged to let the play continue if they have a doubt over a fumble, and let the replay booth figure it out. While this logic is fair to both teams, it does mean that in cases like this game the right result is not obviously correct. This play was not clear on replay, with intuition and physics suggests that it was a pass - fumbles don’t really fly ten yards into the air, but the replay-viewable wobble suggesting a fumble. Regardless of the extent to which the ruling may have been incorrect, it was clearly the correct ruling, and would have been how the league would have wanted the officials to call it every week and with every team.
This was a great example of the crew putting themselves in the position to use replay to assist them in making correct rulings. Its not the most elegant officiating, but it is probably the future of the league.
Clay Martin and his crew of officials had an ok day. I counted two egregious incorrect calls, and two minor ones. The crew had a number of complicated penalty situations, all of which took a long time and extensive discussion to resolve. Their player management was not the worst, but it was quite poor. They clearly decided to not call formation penalties and offsides, and there were several plays in the second half where multiple Panthers lined up in the neutral zone and several Broncos linemen were completely in the backfield. Neither team had much advantage, but both were quite a bit divorced from the rules. Overall, this was not the sharpest officiating, but it was significantly better than several crews the Broncos had earlier in the year.