This was a good week for the NFL to bring back its “Official Review” segment because this was a bad week for the NFL’s officials. Unfortunately, when “Official Review” aired on NFL Network on Wednesday, all but one of this week’s officiating mistakes was ignored.
NFL Network started “Official Review” several years ago, featuring then-V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira. The segment disappeared not long after Pereira left the league office and was replaced by Carl Johnson, who’s not as smooth on TV as Pereira is. But starting today, NFL Network brought it back, featuring both Johnson and director of officiating Dean Blandino.
In theory, that should be a boon to fans, who deserve to get some straight talk from the people who oversee the officials. In practice, today’s return of “Official Review” was disappointing: It addressed only two issues that arose last week, and admitted a mistake in only one, the clock issue in the Rams-49ers game. Yes, the timekeeper in the Rams-49ers game screwed up and kept the clock running while the officials brought out the chains to measure for a first down, and it’s good that the NFL admitted that error, but there’s nothing particularly illuminating about Johnson and Blandino reiterating that fact: Basically, the league is acknowledging that the timing got screwed up, and that’s that.
And Johnson and Blandino used the other issue addressed during “Official Review” as an opportunity to praise their referee for getting a call right. That was the call when Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts failed to maintain control of the ball as he went to the ground against the Colts and was originally ruled to have caught the pass, only to have the catch overturned on the Colts’ challenge.
But instead of praising the referee for correctly ruling on the replay, why not address how the on-field official got it wrong, forcing the Colts to use a challenge? The official who initially ruled that Shorts caught the ball had a good view of the play and simply misapplied the rule, which points to a much bigger issue that the NFL is facing: Even two and a half seasons after we were all introduced to what is now called the “Calvin Johnson Rule,” the officials still can’t seem to agree on what constitutes a catch when a player is going to the ground. Why can’t the NFL write that rule in such a way that every official understands it and enforces it uniformly? That question went unasked and unanswered during this week’s “Official Review.”
Fans would have been better served by more scrutiny of the officials. For instance, why didn’t the replay assistant tell the referee to review Broncos return man Trindon Holliday’s touchdown against the Panthers, when replays made it clear that Holliday fumbled before he crossed the goal line? The replay assistant is the only person who can order a review of scoring plays and turnovers, and those replay assistants deserve scrutiny. But the work done by the replay assistants was ignored by this week’s “Official Review.”
If the NFL wants to benefit the fans, it will deal head-on with officiating mistakes like the Holliday touchdown, or a bad pass interference call on an uncatchable pass in New England, or the bizarre interception return for a touchdown that was initially awarded to Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield on Sunday, on a play when the seven men in striped shirts seemed to be the only ones in the entire stadium who didn’t see that the ball bounced off the ground before Winfield grabbed it. The fans know when the officials make mistakes. The fans and the NFL will both be better off if the league deals with those mistakes candidly.