Apologies that this review took longer than normal, I faced some personal complications this week. The good news was that this was an extremely good week to be late, because the Denver Broncos both won the game, and did so despite the officials getting it wrong in favor of the Chicago Bears.
Does Replay Review Get It Right
I do not generally talk much about official replay reviews. I do not view them as being a part of the officiating. However review interacts officiating quite a bit, and so I think its worth discussing. I thought the call on the field on the Bears first touchdown was probably a good call. Mechanically I would have seen possession, one foot coming to the the ground, and another hit in bounds before hitting the pylon (as was corrected noted during the replay the inside of the pylon is out of bounds and does not help the runner establish being in bounds in any way). The replay to me was equally obvious and clear that in fact there was only one foot down. I would have overturned. I do not understand how New York decided not to.
More broadly though, this replay continues a broad trend I have seen with replay reviews where getting New York involved does not obviously improve the quality of the officiating. I have become a huge opponent of replay central (though not of replay review), because of the fundamentals of officiating. I say this a lot, but officials (and the rules) exist to increase safety, ensure fairness, and make the game more fun. It is not clear to me how having select plays per game reviewed outside the stadium can assist with fairness when the majority of plays are not reviewed, and the lengthy delays involved are simply not fun for anyone. There are currently two replay officials in the stadium in every NFL game, who are wired to the officials on the field and assist with anything throughout the game. I love this system, and hope that as we continue to increase the skill of these officials and the technology they are using, we can get away from the formal replay system more or less entirely.
Late Hits on Slides
We have seen from many different officiating crews this year that officials are being much less stringent on calling personal fouls for late hits on a runner who gives himself up. It used to be that a runner had two choices. He could fight for extra yards and take the hit, or he could give himself up. The officials would almost always be extremely conservative when spotting the ball if he gave himself up (my rule was always to go a yard behind my best guess for where to spot the ball was), because by rule he was down as soon as he started to give himself up. This could mean that for a quarterback scrambling the choice to dive forward or slide was one that would have a three yard implication on ball placement – a huge deal. To help even the scales of the choice, the runner was protected very stringently from late hits if they gave up. This year the NFL has decided against the second choice – and its led to a bunch of questionable hits on Russell Wilson (and any other QB who scrambles). While this is a bad idea, the league has been very consistent, so even though I would have liked at least one late hit personal foul this game, the league does not want that.
This was an extremely well officiated game. The spotting was good. The calls were good. The officials were very assertive in keeping player emotion and conduct under control. The officials were trigger happy with false starts, and while I disagree to some extent with the threshold they set for false starts, it didn’t define the contest the way some crews getting flag happy (or refusing to throw) defensive pass interference has in the past. I noted two probably blown calls, one against each team. Sometimes you come off a field after officiating a close contest and just know that you worked so hard for three hours but that you absolutely had a great game. I suspect the officials felt that way after this game, and it was well deserved. They worked a great game.