Absence truly makes the heart grow fonder. Despite all the complaining and grumbling about NFL officiating over the years, the NFL needs to get its regular officials back on the field. Pronto. As in yesterday.
If you thought the officials were overmatched during the Eagles victory over the Ravens on Saturday, you should have watched the Monday night fiasco between the Broncos and Falcons. We heard “the call on the field is reversed” at least three times.
Fortunately, replay corrected some of the mistakes. But it took at least five minutes to correct a pass interference call on which the pass was clearly deflected, which negates any interference further downfield. I’d bet 99 percent of the people in the stadium saw the deflection. The referees were apparently in the 1 percent that didn’t see it – or they didn’t know the rules.
I have sympathy for the replacement referees. They’re doing the best they can. But referees who primarily work high school and middle school football – or even small college football – are not accustomed to the speed of the NFL game. As I wrote during the preseason, this will lead to all sorts of mistakes.
Placing the ball in the correct spot after penalties seems to be a monumental challenge. We saw this problem rear its ugly head repeatedly during Sunday’s Eagles-Ravens game. During the Monday night game, an incorrect placement that wasn’t corrected gave the Broncos 6 extra yards on a scoring drive.
My wrath is not directed at the replacement refs. It is directed at the NFL, which is risking the integrity of its game. The game is being played by the best players in the world. It should be officiated by the best officials in the world.
What the NFL is doing is similar to building a luxury car with an engine made of scrap parts. It’s like getting a top-of-the-line home computer and installing an outdated operating system.
The first quarter of Monday’s Broncos-Falcons game took nearly an hour. It took that long due to challenges that should have been unnecessary, difficulties in correctly spotting the ball and a myriad of other problems. Replay reviews fixed the aforementioned pass interference mistakes, corrected one touchdown ruling that shouldn’t have been and overturned one non-touchdown ruling that should have been a touchdown. By the way, all three of these situations were originally ruled in favor of the home team – the Falcons. I thought Broncos head coach John Fox’s head might explode.
Replay reviews corrected the three mistakes listed in the preceding paragraph, just as it corrected the Michael Vick “fumble,” which would have aborted the Eagles’ game-winning scoring drive. But replay couldn’t correct a phantom pass interference and a ridiculous holding call against the Broncos on Monday. To quote ESPN’s Jon Gruden after watching replays of both these calls, “I don’t see it.”
If we’re honest, we have to admit that the offensive pass interference call which wiped out a touchdown that would have given the Ravens a bit of a cushion during the second half was a suspect call. That’s particularly true when the amount of contact that was being allowed as receivers ran downfield is taken into account.
The NFL, a multi-billion dollar business, needs to come to its senses. Monday night’s game was painful to watch. ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico even called the confusion and mistakes “embarrassing,” which I suspect earned him a sharp rebuke through his earpiece.
Let me put this issue in terms the NFL will understand. The longer the replacement referees are on the field, the better the regular officials’ bargaining position becomes.
Get a deal done now. It will save money in the long run. More importantly, it will save the integrity of the game.
PARITY ON PARADE: After two weeks of the season, there are 20 NFL teams with 1-1 records, the most in history. Six teams, including the Eagles and their opponent next week, the Cardinals, are 2-0. Six teams, including my preseason Super Bowl pick, the Saints, are 0-2.
IN HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM: If the Phillies barely miss out a playoff berth, they can look back to this past weekend, when they lost three of four to Houston, as a crucial series. The Astros have the worst record in baseball. But when you leave tons of runners on base because you can’t hit in the clutch or make productive outs, and your bullpen gives away leads in the seventh and eighth innings, it’s going to cost you games – even against the Astros.
WINNING WAYS: I hope the Pirates, who are 74-72 entering Tuesday’s games, finish above .500. The Pirates and their fans have endured 19 straight losing seasons. At one point this year, they were far above .500. A recent slide, however, has put their winning season in jeopardy. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, finishing with a winning record would be a moral victory.
NOT WILD ABOUT WILD CARD: The addition of a second wild card has created additional excitement in the National League, where, under the previous system, all four playoff berths would be virtually wrapped up. I still don’t like the second wild card.
As much as I don’t like a second wild card, what I particularly don’t like is the one-game playoff between the two wild card teams. Baseball is not football. A one-game playoff series is not a fair way to decide who advances in baseball. One-game playoffs should only be reserved for tie-breakers to see which teams get into the playoffs.
Furthermore, did anyone consider what might happen if two or more teams end up tied for the second wild card berth? It could create a scheduling mess of epic proportions.
LIKE I TOLD YOU: As Ron Opher noted at the end of the Eagles-Ravens game story, my prediction at the end of the preview for the Eagles-Ravens game correctly forecast that the Ravens would hold a 23-17 lead as the Eagles mounted a late drive.
BUT NOT WHAT I SAID: As Ron also noted, I predicted the Eagles’ late drive would fall short, leaving the Ravens 23-17 winners. I am happy to be wrong.
BAD START: Speaking of predictions, two of my predictions aren’t looking too good out of the gate. As mentioned earlier, the Saints, my pick to win the Super Bowl, are 0-2 because their defense can’t stop anybody.
In NASCAR, Jeff Gordon, my upset pick to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup, slammed into the wall Sunday and finished 35th in the opening race of the Chase. Gordon was running very well before the crash and Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, listed as two of my pre-Chase favorites, finished first and second, respectively. Still, it’s not a good start for two of my long-range predictions.
HEEL PREDICTIONS: Not only are my NFL and NASCAR predictions off to a bad start, but Achilles Heel correctly predicted the winners of CHIKARA’s King of Trios tournament this past weekend. Actually, he listed four teams, but he did write that they were “in order,” and his top team (The Spectral Envoy) won the tournament. We’ll never hear the end of it.
OWLS VS. LIONS: Congratulations to Penn State, which crushed Navy, 34-7, for its first win this season. Linebacker Mike Mauti was named Big Ten defensive player of the week. The Lions (1-2), who could be 3-0, beat Navy despite missing its top two tailbacks due to injury. Penn State hosts Temple on Saturday (3:30 p.m.).
The Owls (1-1) had last week off, meaning they’ve got two weeks to lick their wounds from their loss to Maryland and regroup before facing Penn State, a team they haven’t beaten since 1941. Penn State barely beat Temple last year, 14-10, so the Owls didn’t need NCAA sanctions against the Nittany Lions to believe they could win this week.
POOR IMITATION: Penn almost won its season opener at Lafayette despite throwing seven interceptions. The Quakers fought back to within 28-21 before time ran out. Seven interceptions and a chance to win? Who do the Quakers think they are, the Eagles?
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 24 years, is certainly not wild about MLB’s second wild card.