Look, it would be easy to sit here and type (again) that the guys who work the second half of the season-opening Monday night twin bill on ESPN don’t exude the same level of competence as the folks who handle the weekly MNF assignment.
But here’s a tangible example of the gap between the folks who handled the early game and the trio who (as rumor has it) includes a radio tag-team that is being groomed to eventually move into two of the top slots on Monday nights.
Near the end of the first half of the nightcap between San Diego and Oakland, Raiders wideout Louis Murphy seemed to make a 19-yard touchdown pass. In real time, it looked to be a catch.
But then came news that the replay booth had called for a review, and every member of the broadcast team (and, presumably, the folks talking into their headsets) expressed a belief that the play would be upheld, even though after Murphy’s feet hit the ground he fell to the turf, the ball hit the grass, and the ball moved.
While waiting for the ruling, they sounded like three guys sitting around someone’s living room, reinforcing each other’s inaccurate understanding of the rules while eating pretzels and drinking light beer.
“He’s got two feet, he’s gonna be OK,” Steve Young said.
Though Mike Greenberg seemed to be focusing on the right thing — whether the ball moved when it struck the ground — the former NFL players in the booth apparently influenced him to agree.
“I’d be very surprised if they overturn this,” Greenberg eventually said.
“I’d be stunned if they overturn it,” Mike Golic added.
After more expressions of certainty, Young said that two feet down in the end zone with the ball ends the play.
But it gets better. They then accounted for the possibility that the rule requires possession to be maintained once the player hits the ground — and they contended that possession was maintained even though multiple angles showed the ball clearly moving as it hit the ground.
So, of course, the call was overturned. And then they disagreed with the explanation from the guy who doesn’t work only one NFL game per year, but 20 of them, possibly with playoffs.
“Look, I understand that it moved,” Young said, “but he still controls it.”
Golic then chimed in that Murphy’s arm was still under the ball when it struck the ground and moved.
“When the ball moves, does it mean that you’ve lost control?” Young said. (Um, yes. It does.)
The discussion continued, with Young trying to make the case that the ball can strike the ground and move without showing that the player has lost possession.
To prove how grossly wrong they were, look no farther than the closing moments of the early game. In making the game-winning touchdown reception, Pats tight end Benjamin Watson caught the ball, both of his feet hit the ground, he fell to the ground, the ball struck the ground, but the ball didn’t move.
Play-by-play man Mike Tirico was all over it, pointing out during the review period that the ball could hit the ground as long as it doesn’t move. Ron Jaworski then chimed in with a reference to the moment that triggered the current rule.
In the 1999 NFC title game, Bucs receiver Bert Emanuel made a catch from Shaun King during a late drive in a game that Tampa trailed, 11-6. Emanuel had both hands on the ball, but the ball touched the ground while in Emanuel’s possession.
Under the rule in place at the time, the play correctly was determined to be an incomplete pass. The rule later was changed to permit a reception in such cases, as long as the ball doesn’t move.
So the “A” team (and most passionate NFL fans) know that rule. The “B” team (which includes a Hall of Fame quarterback) didn’t.
To their credit, the “B” team explained the situation after halftime. But, even then, Steve Young made little sense, describing it as a subjective call regarding whether the player had it all the way to the ground and thereafter lost possession, and thus it “clearly could go either way.”
No. It can’t go either way. If the ball strikes the ground and moves, it’s incomplete.
That’s why these guys are only working one game per year, and that’s why they’ve got a lot of work to do if they’re ever going to work more than one game per year.
UPDATE: Chris Mortensen of ESPN agrees, Twitter-style. “That call cannot go either way with a review. It can only go one way: A receiver must control the ball to the ground.”