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After Further Review: Broncos Officiating Week 17

Breaking down the good, the bad, and the absent from the officials during the Broncos 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking down the good, the bad, and the absent from the officials during the Denver Broncos 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Late Hits on Mahomes

There were at least two plays where Patrick Mahomes took contact near or on the sidelines while going out of bounds in the game. Chief fans wanted unnecessary roughness called on both plays, and the officials did not call it either time. The officials were clearly correct. In football, players are allowed to be unusually rough in the context of the rules of the game and during live ball periods. When the ball is dead, players do not have the right to engage in these acts of unusual roughness. When we evaluate unnecessary roughness, the very first bar that conduct must clear to be eligible for a penalty is “would the conduct be permitted by two normal individuals during a dead ball period.” Otherwise it cannot be unnecessary roughness.

In both of these cases, a player shoved Mahomes open handed. This type of roughness routinely occurs in the aftermath of play, and it is not flagged. What happens normally is officials will crash into the fray and order players to separate (though almost all of the time their teammates separate the players before officials can arrive). Flags are only thrown when players refuse to follow the directions of the game officials. Chief fans may object that lots of players get flagged for small hits when trying to tackle a player going out of bounds, and this is correct. However it misses the broader point, which is that tackling the opponent is a type of roughness that is restricted, and not allowed at all during the dead ball period. It also neglects the broader context - in the name of safety we want to encourage players to engage in minimal violence. Shoving players down, or arm-touching players who may be down is exactly what we want to be done when possible, and so players engaging in this least violent approach should not be flagged, and indeed were not.

Late Hit on Wilson

A seemingly similar situation occurred on Denver’s last play in the fourth quarter. Chris Jones wrapped up Wilson, attempted to bring him down, then suplexed him to the ground. However, for officiating mechanics this play is very different from the Mahomes situations. First, this is clearly a live ball play - the right to limited roughness clearly exists and so more violent conduct is potentially permissible. However, suplexing players is the type of conduct that officials should always be flagging - it introduces unnecessary risk of injury into a play while providing no benefit to the objective of the game. I have no tolerance for this type of tackling, and while the play by Jones was of a more mild variety, I want to see this penalized every time.

There is a broader failure though – referee Tra Blake let this go on way too long. He should have blown the play dead long before we reached that point. Wilson was in Jones grasp and driven back six yards before the incident, with no whistle from the officials. They later marked the play as having had forward progress stopped, but they failed on the field. This was weak officiating allowing for increased violence in a game.

OPI on Sutton

Courtland Sutton had a physical game against the Chiefs secondary, including numerous altercations during the play, and Suttons tackle that knocked L’Jarius Sneed out of the game in the fourth quarter. Sutton was flagged for offensive pass interference in the third quarter on an amazing 40 yard catch. It was absolutely the wrong call, and unnecessarily tight on a day in which back judge Todd Prukop was letting a lot of contact go.

For any pass interference, the first criteria is always did the player look like they were attempting to make a play on the ball - because if a player is playing their opponent instead of the ball, they receive very little leeway. In this case the answer is easy - Sutton made the catch because he was making a play on the ball. Secondly with OPI we want to look at holding. Grabbing another players arm or body to prevent them from catching necessarily also prevents yourself from making a play on the ball with that arm, and should generally draw a flag. Sutton did not hold. Thirdly we look for blocking out. Prukop reported that this was what he saw - Sutton shove defender Bryan Cook in the chest. Replay clearly showed that this was incorrect - Sutton did not make contact with his chest. However, officials generally evaluate this element contextually - we almost never have the perfect angle to see the contact, and so we look for the offenders shoulder or hips to dip followed by the opponent changing their momentum.

Sutton may have met this criteria - he did make contact with Cook’s arm, and at approximately that time Cook’s momentum very slightly changed. I interpreted that as not changing momentum and do not believe that Sutton caused Cook to stumble. However, this is a judgement call, and very angle dependent. Lastly an official looking for pass interference needs to consider the broader context of the game, the officiating so far, and how a flag might be interpreted by both sides. I do not really understand how Prukop thought that the very minor contact from Sutton was pass interference but he decided to let a very large amount of physical contact go from both sides. Ultimately this was a bad call, though a somewhat understandable one.

You Make the Call


What is your call?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Defensive Pass Interference #23
    (303 votes)
  • 9%
    Two Fouls: Defensive Pass Interference #23 and Taunting on Offense #10
    (69 votes)
  • 47%
    No Foul
    (331 votes)
703 votes total Vote Now

Challenge Review

There was one obviously challengeable call in this game for Denver, and just like if Hackett was still around, the Broncos did not challenge the call on the field. Early in the second quarter, on third and 2 Latavius Murray ran up the middle and nearly picked up the first down. The spot was poor and unfavorable to the Broncos, setting up 4th and inches. The Broncos went for it and converted. The conversion makes it easy to forget that the spot was challengeable, and the situation called for a challenge. It was in the first half, the Broncos had all three time outs and both challenges remaining. The risk was low, the odds of success were high, and the payoff was a first down instead of fourth down. This absolutely needed to be challenged.

The officials had several borderline reviews, which they upheld. None of these were totally egregious, but the turnover from Wilson was probably the wrong call, and it cost Denver at least three points.

Officials evaluation

I was not a fan of the officiating this game. The spotting of the ball was never egregiously bad, but definitely around average or a bit below while also lacking consistency. I felt that referee Tra Blake and his crew tried to look for minor penalties instead of major ones - I saw both illegal use of hands and pass interference called as holding instead. They tried to stay out of the game, which I appreciate, but they allowed way too much violence in this pursuit, too much contact, and generally under performed. My biggest gripe was with back judge Todd Prukop, who had the bad OPI, but also seemed to be missing stuff and not communicating his expectations to players clearly, though Blake not whistling the Wilson sack dead earlier was a far more egregious mistake.