In thinking about Week 14, Denver fans probably do not think much about the officiating. The game was a fun win, and the game was not super close. The officiating definitely favored Denver this week, though fortunately the Denver Broncos certainly would have won without the benefit of calls going their way.
Good and Bad Use of Replay Review
There were important reviews this game, from both Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley and automatic reviews from the booth. The review of forward progress that turned into Wilson’s interception was a fascinating play and shows what I consider to be the proper use of instant replay. The officials clearly got it incorrect on the field – looking at instant replay there was no point where Marvin Mims had control of the ball.
I emphasize a lot that replay should enhance the perspective of the official on the field, not replace their judgment. On this play, it would have been a poor idea for the official to consider overturning forward progress because that is a judgment call, while it is perfectly fine to use replay to consider if the receiver ever had control of the ball. I also found this play very interesting because while the official on the field got the ruling incorrect, I believed that from his perspective and with his responsibilities I would have ruled the same. The way that play looked live, I would have ruled a four yard completion and been wrong.
It is nice to see replay correct plays like these. One of the concerns I have had about replay is that it has the potential to allow officials to become sloppy because the replay can fix a lot of things. The Jeudy touchdown for example, should never have been ruled a catch – it was easy to see live that he did not have two feet down. The Davis interception was the opposite – the officials were incorrect on the field but in a way that I do not consider to be wrong.
Near the end of the second quarter, the Chargers committed a clear illegal shift on a motion play. When the announcers saw the flag, they thought it should have been called on Zach Allen for offsides. There were two questionable bits on the play. The first was if Allen was offsides when the ball was snapped. I think he probably got back, and the more important bit is because he was moving backwards, the defense had no advantage. However this was a questionable no-call that benefited Denver, and for what its worth I probably would have flagged him. There is also the possibility that either the center or right tackle had drawn him offsides – they both made somewhat abrupt adjustments right before he jumped. I would have preferred no false start call, but it was less motion than has drawn some false start flags this season. A questionable mess all around.
This play was also interesting because this was an inevitable illegal shift – meaning that as soon as the motion man began their motion, it should have been obvious to San Diego that the play was going to draw an illegal motion flag. A few weeks ago I highlighted how when faced with a similar situation Sean Payton called timeout to avoid the penalty. Driving with three minutes left in the first half of a game, saving a penalty is almost certainly worth the timeout, which leads me to believe that Brandon Staley's coaching staff does not have a system in place to allow for a coach to notice and call timeout in that situation. It’s a small deal, but in a league that is embracing motion concepts more and more, probably something that good coaches are thinking about.
Patrick Mahomes is Wrong
Patrick Mahomes went ballistic this week about a correct offsides call near the end of the game. His argument was that offensive offsides should not be called, the player should be warned. When I first started officiating, correctly officiating these type of plays was one of the first things I had to learn. Officials do not want to throw flags for procedural penalties, especially when it did not give an unfair advantage. So there is a temptation to not call the foul in any situation.
One day in tape review, my mentor saw an offsides play, saw me move off the line of scrimmage to try and see the play clearer, and asked me why I had not flagged the wide receiver. I told him I did not want to disrupt the game for an inconsequential penalty. His response was that when a player is breaking a rule and its keeping you from doing your job, every official must flag the play every time and they can keep losing yards until they learn to follow the rules. He was right. Officials frequently use discretion on non-safety penalties. But when a player breaks a rule in a way that prohibits proper officiating, the officials must throw the foul. The alternative is teams start having one player cheat to obfuscate other cheating by other players in more consequential ways. The only way to have consistency of officiating is to use rules on when you are going to call penalties, and one of the most handy rules is to call every penalty that prohibits you from doing your job.
I charted four questionable calls in the game – three benefiting Denver and one benefiting Los Angeles, alongside two bad calls, both of which benefitted Denver. The instant replay corrected one of those bad call (the Jeudy touchdown). Clete Blakeman and his crew flagged only eight fouls during the contest, four on each team. The officials were mechanically solid throughout the contest. There is very little to say about this game – the officials made some mistakes but this was high level officiating at its best. Chargers fans can feel very upset about Allen not getting called offsides, and about the calls going more to Denver, but replay cleaned up the biggest errors.
While I am nervous about the erroneous touchdown ruling for Jerry Jeudy, as the play was not close, I still felt that the officials performed at the level we would want from an officiating crew in the NFL at the end of the season. In a week where officiating has been criticized extensively around the league, I was happy with the level of officiating that the Broncos experienced.