Breaking down the good and the bad from the officials in the Denver Broncos 34-28 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14.
When I first started officiating, like most officials, I focused on and learned a single position. It was a real surprise to me how different the game was when I started working other positions. The goal of officiating mechanics is to put one official in the position to have the right view of every relevant action on every play. There are weaknesses in the system, though these are planned around in the NFL so that replay review and camera angles will have great angles for almost all of them (the only real exception are for high punts out of bounds).
This perspective was on full display on KCs second field goal. The announcers could not clearly tell if it was in or out. Most players on the field and fans in the stands probably couldn’t tell. But there is one official under the relevant upright who had an absolutely perfect view of the play. Its amazing how on a tough call it will often be just that one official who can see it just perfect.
Jerry Jeudy made national headlines for his tirade near the end of the second quarter while going off the field, one in which he removed his helmet and bumped into an official. Some commentators called for his ejection for hitting the official, and others for removing his helmet. However, the rules are far more complicated on this matter.
There are two rules when it comes to players contacting officials. Like so many rules in football, they nearly contradict each other. Players may not seek to initiate contact with an official. However, players do not have a responsibility to avoid contact with officials. If there is a legitimate football reason for a player to be doing what he was doing, contacting an official is allowed. Applying this to Jeudy is complicated. He was leaving the field – a legitimate football action. He appeared to be furious, but not furious at the official. Its not completely clear that he saw the official, and was trying to initiate contact with him. These factors make it a borderline call – one where what he was screaming as he was leaving the field, as well as the officiating crews game management and general penalizing philosophies could dramatically impact the likeliness and appropriateness of a penalty or ejection. This officiating crew let most questionable calls go. I would have called numerous holding, personal foul, and pass interference calls on this game and against both teams that they allowed (nine in the first half, split roughly even between the teams). So not flagging Jeudy was entirely consistent with how they were managing the game, and consistent with the rules.
Some officials might hypothetically have penalized Jeudy or Denvers bench/coach with a lesser foul for that incident. There are many officials that will levy a penalty that is different from the rulebook, especially to find a way to avoid an unwarranted ejection. No one would admit that such a thing might occur. It did not happen in the Broncos game, so we do not have to worry about that strictly hypothetical situation.
As for Jeudy taking off his helmet, it was probably legal for him to do so. It is illegal to remove the helmet in celebration, in a fight, as part of a protest against or argument with the officials, to use it as a weapon, or as a demonstration. Demonstration is pretty vague, but clearly none of the other categories apply. Taking your helmet off as you are leaving the field is allowed. The rules may be silly to prohibit removing the helmet in celebration, but at least it allows for helmets to be removed in many other circumstances.
One of my themes of challenge review is that teams should not think about challenges as getting it “right” but as opportunities to risk for advantage. Under the current rulebook, it is pretty rare that teams need to conserve their challenges – with all turnovers and scores automatically reviewed, there are not many impactful plays left in a game to challenge, so teams should be more willing to risk running out of challenges. Kansas City had an excellent one of these in the game on Sunday. Juju Smith-Schuster appeared to catch a pass and then fumble it after taking a couple of steps. The officials ruled on the field that it was incomplete. There was no ruling on who recovered the fumble, and it was not obvious who did so (players from each team dove on it). Kansas City correctly understood that because the officials had not ruled on who recovered and it was not obvious, if they could get the play ruled a catch-fumble, KC would get the ball at the spot of the fumble. In this case it would be a 14 yard gain on second and 10 instead of an incomplete. Andy Reid saw the upside and a rule that is almost impossible to accurately police, and risked the challenge. Even though he did not succeed, and even though Mahomes converted the third and 10 and they scored on the drive, it was still worth the attempt.
Denver did not have any obviously challengeable plays in the game.
The booth official called for a review of the incomplete pass to Surtain which after review was overturned. I agreed entirely with Gene Stenatore on this one – live I would have called that an incomplete, and after review I absolutely would have overturned it. I was glad that the booth official called for review – it was clearly worth the second look.
You Make the Call
What is your call?
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Penalty: Offensive Pass Interference #84
Penalty: Defensive Pass Interference #27
Dual Foul: OPI and DPI.
Referee Craig Wrolstad and his crew let a lot of questionable conduct go. I mentioned this in the Jerry Jeudy section, but they ate their flags on many different plays. I tend to prefer for officials to call few penalties, but this game was way too few for the conduct on the field. They let everything go. The only official whose calls I consistently agreed with/ was umpire Steve Woods. The most questionable non-calls probably came from side judge Jeff Lamberth, line judge Tripp Sutter and field judge Jeff Shears. The lack of calls make it really hard to judge the officiating of the game as a whole because it just overshadows the excellent game management and solid ball spotting and time mechanics that the officials used.