Should referees approach the playoffs with an attitude of getting out of the way and letting the players play? Not according to the league office, which says officials are instructed to call playoff games the same way they call regular-season games.
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said in a video distributed to the media that although the NFL saw a decline in penalties per game from the regular season into the wild card round, that isn’t the intent of the league. Instead, Blandino has told his officials that a penalty in the regular season should be a penalty in the playoffs, and a play they’d let go in the regular season should be a play they let go in the playoffs.
“The philosophy in the postseason, the direction is no different from the regular season when we talk with our officials,” Blandino said. “We want them to call the game the same way. I know fouls were down this weekend, but the direction is the same, we want them to call the game the same way all year. We’ve told our officials, don’t be overly technical, we don’t want to call what you’d consider ticky-tack fouls. We want to make sure the fouls are there and we’re getting flags down when they are there, and not letting teams take advantage or push the envelope. That’s been the direction all year and it will continue to be the direction during the postseason.”
In practice, it doesn’t always appear to play out that way. Sunday’s 49ers-Packers game, in particular, looked like a game in which the officials decided to let a lot of things go. But the NFL’s stance is that the rules don’t change in the playoffs, and the way the officials enforce the rules shouldn’t change, either.