Illegal Formation and Ineligible Downfield
These two penalties are often called for the same basic flaw – not being clear as to who is on the line of scrimmage. The rule that there must be seven on the line of scrimmage and that only the ends are eligible is a pretty annoying one for officials – most of the time being slightly off does not really impact the game and so we try to let these infractions slide because they rarely help the infracting team or impact the game. A lot of teams, especially Kansas City, have a tendency to push too many players into the backfield, especially their tackles.
This year Denver has pushed its backs very close to the line of scrimmage, often having eight or nine players that are technically on the line. When Denver does this, it is legal on run plays, but also strongly signals run. Regardless of officials not calling these penalties often, it is very dangerous to be noncompliant with the rules. I somewhat expect for Denver to be called for an ineligible downfield at some point this year because of how consistently Denver wide receivers are backs covering up ends.
Complaints to Officials
Patrick Mahomes is not the only person who constantly complains to officials. Officials get complaints constantly. Players, coaches, assistant coaches, even media will regularly complain about missed plays. One of the things that officials have to learn very early is to take complaints seriously without letting complaining define the game. Even the best officiating crew misses parts of every play, or has a perspective that does not let us see some conduct. Making this more complicated is that even if an official has a great angle, each official has a different assignment on each play, so it is possible that something happens right in front of an official, but that the official is (correctly) looking elsewhere.
Complaints may be correct, may be about dangerous conduct, and even if incorrect not taking complaints seriously can lead to anger and further dangerous conduct. It is part and parcel of officiating to hear constant complaints. Honestly, most of it does not annoy us. Every team feels their opponent holds on every play. Every opponent is always committing late hits and every spot is always against your team. At all levels of play, players and coaches know shockingly little about the rules, feeding more complaints. Good officials have to sort through all complaints automatically, and respond aggressively to serious ones (claims of cheap shots, illegal conduct under a pile, misapplication of the rules resulting in the wrong spot or wrong down are some good examples of complaints that officials absolutely always need to respond to).
Probably the most obnoxious are complaints by quarterbacks. There is already one official who watches the quarterback all the time, and on scrambles at least another official who is directly watching him. If officials miss roughing the passer, no amount of complaining is going to change our conduct. When Patrick Mahomes scrambles and complains about being tackled, rest assured that it deeply annoys the officials, who were already watching the play very closely. It will not get us to pettily rule against him later on, but it absolutely will mean that we will take him less seriously when he has actually justified complaints.
There were also two incredibly obvious blown plays by the officials on the field. The first was not calling a 4th quarter Pacheco run out of bounds when he obviously stepped out and letting the play go for another twenty yards. This might not seem a big deal, but it absolutely is. First of all, there is an official tasked with checking for runners going out of bounds, and in perfect position to see and call the play properly. Second, letting the play keep going induces unnecessary roughness, and delays the game. These are things that should be and are penalized when players cause them, and the officials should never be the source of this continued action after the end of the play.
The second obvious blown play was the Sutton touchdown. This was challenged by Denver, and correctly overturned. I do not really understand how the officials got this one wrong. The catch was clean and obvious, and Suttons knee clearly landed in bounds. Most importantly, all of this was facing the covering official and at very close range. This should have been an easy call at any level, and I am at a loss as to how they missed it.
This game was one of extremes. The announcing by referee Shawn Hochuli was painful. He made multiple incorrect announcements from the field. Its really important that officials communicate correctly, and the repeated mistakes are just about as bad as a referee can do. It also makes every officials job much harder, because bad announcements always turn the stadium against the officials. Its not possible to know if these were mistakes by Hochuli, or if his crew was making horrible errors that he did not catch. But he needs to lead his crew, and incorrect announcing is really unforgiveable, much less repeatedly. One of the called penalties was for holding by the kicking team during a return – something that is almost impossible to have occur and should always be a huge red flag and should have had him questioning what was going on. He seemed to be officiating on auto-pilot.
The frustrating thing about the huge missed calls and the horrible announcing, is that other than those the officials called a really good game. I only noted one questionable call in the entire game (excluding the blown plays discussed above). I liked the spotting of the ball, and thought that the officials did a good job of not needlessly inserting themselves into the game. The average officiating was really good, but the misses were rough. Fortunately the misses got corrected and did not impact the final score, but just as I do not hold replay reviews overturning good calls against the officials, they do not get credit for replay fixing their mistakes.