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After Further Review: Denver Broncos Officiating Review Week 16

Breaking down the rules and the officiating calls from the Week 16 Denver Broncos loss to the New England Patriots.

NFL: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This was a heartbreaking loss for Denver, but the officiating was in late season form. There were even some real entertaining rules issues from the painful loss.

Unnecessary Roughness

I hardly ever watch Denver Broncos games live. I generally look over the final score and the play by play before watching the game. The unnecessary roughness call on Quinn Meinerz stood out on the play by play – it was a huge penalty and offensive linemen almost never get called for unnecessary roughness during the play. Watching it live, there was no question that it was a great and necessary call. Meinerz opened with an absolutely sweet block, throwing his defender to the ground. Then Meinerz went after the defender already on the ground. By rule, players on the ground are defenseless, and opponents must take efforts to not engage them unless the player takes action to reengage with the play. Even if the player attempts to reengage, actions while they are down needs to be as limited in physicality as possible to keep them out of the play. Meinerz savagely went over the line, and it was an easy call.

The announcers commented on their expectation a couple of minutes after the Meinerz unnecessary roughness that they expected PJ Locke to be flagged for an extraordinarily hard hit, and saying they see this get called often. They did not understand the nature of defenseless players. DeMarlo Douglas caught a pass, took two steps, fully brought the ball in, took two more steps and braced himself for Locke's hit. While Locke did hit Douglas high, he hit into Douglas’s shoulder and Douglas was clearly no longer a defenseless player. This was an easy no call. Announcers not understanding the difference between high hits on defenseless players and in normal situations is very frustrating, because it makes fans think the game lacks consistency even when it does not.

Digging in a Pile

There were several times this game where a fumble resulted in a pile and officials had to dig to determine who had the ball. The rules are clear, any player with possession and down ends the play. But we do not have a mechanism to achieve the rules. Additionally, there is a general exception to most of the rule book allowing lots of additional contact when the player is attempting to reach a loose ball. So currently, officials have almost no mechanisms to ensure fairness or safety on these plays. I hate officiating piles, and would love for there to be new rules to clarify the situation. I do not think that the officials were wrong on how they handled any of the piles in this game, even though they probably incorrectly ruled a Denver turnover in the first quarter, I do not have confidence that this call was incorrect nor that they should have been able to make a better call. Which is why pileups suck.


Different levels of football have different rulesets. In general, the NFL has the most complicated ruleset, and things are simplified at other levels of play. An example of this was seen in the 4th quarter with under three minutes to play. Brandon Johnson caught a Russell Wilson pass and weaved his way towards the endzone. His foot hit the pylon, and he was correctly ruled with a touchdown. This is because Pylons, along with players and officials, do not count as outside of the field of play. Normally a player who touches anything that is out of bounds is by rule out of bounds. There are exceptions for players and officials, and in the NFL, an exception for pylons. In college and high school football, this exception does not exist, and Brandon Johnson should have been ruled down at the 1 yard line.

Official Evaluation

I look forward to watching Carl Cheffers and his crew. I think he is one of the stronger crew chiefs in the NFL, and as a result his crew tends to have a consistent officiating philosophy. This week did not disappoint. I did not mark the officials with any bad calls with one caveat. The call on the field in the first quarter of a Wilson interception was clearly incorrect, but I believed it was procedurally valid to make the call that way and allow replay to overturn it. I liked the procedure, but could understand arguing that because they got it wrong and had to fix the call, it was a bad mistake. They made seven questionable calls in the game, four benefiting New England and three benefiting Denver. I did not consider any of their secondary calls to be questionable, and completely agreed with all of their non pass-interference calls. I did not love the job that the short wings did spotting the ball and felt they were a bit random.

However, they tightened things up a lot in high leverage situations where I thought they were basically flawless the entire game. I charted seven players with feet offsides during the game, one by Denver fairly egregious. Obviously none of these were called, much less the times that body parts were offsides. Cheffers and his crew call fouls at a low pace for the NFL so it could just be them, or it could be that the Mahomes tirade got the NFL to care for exactly one week about offsides. Regardless of the offsides, the officials had a good game in this one.