One of the things we don’t like about the current replay system is that the quest to ensure that possible human error won’t influence the outcome of an NFL game unnecessarily injects strategy — and, yes, possible human error — into the process.
The Ravens committed a human error on Sunday when deciding not to challenge the human error made by officials who concluded that a punt from the Patriots had been touched by a Ravens player and that possession had been secured by Kyle Arrington before he fell out of bounds.
Replays showed that, while the ball struck the back of Tom Zbikowski, Arrington did not have full possession of the ball before going out of bounds.
But Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t throw the red flag.
“Our coaches upstairs told me they saw the punt hit Zbikowski a couple of times on replay but they never saw enough to alert me to make a challenge,” Harbaugh told Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC. “I’m disappointed, but in the heat of battle, sometimes that happens.”
It shouldn’t have to be that way. If the NFL is serious about using available technology to get it right, the technology should be applied in any instance where the officials on the field possibly have gotten it wrong.
So coaches like Harbaugh shouldn’t have to rely on someone eyeballing a replay and concluding on the fly whether to use one of only two challenges (three if the first two are used properly) available to each team.
The fact that the NFL automatically subjects questionable calls to replay review without a demand from the team in the final two minutes of each half and in overtime makes our case in this regard. The NFL should be willing to take a look at the tape whenever and wherever necessary to cure a mistake that the officials have made.
Or, better still, the NFL should find a way to get its officials to make fewer mistakes.
Until that happens, the league needs to be willing to fix any that are made.