Notwithstanding the explanation provided by NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino after the Packers beat the Lions with an untimed down after a facemask penalty at the end of a Stanford-band-style hackey-sack play by the Packers, the rules suggest that what happened to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a foul.
“No player shall grasp and control, twist, turn, push, or pull the facemask of an opponent in any direction,” Rule 12, Section 2, Article 14 states.
The rule comes with an important caveat: “If a player grasps an opponent’s facemask, he must immediately release it. If he does not immediately release it and controls his opponent, it is a foul.”
Lions defender Devin Taylor grazed the facemask of Aaron Rodgers, at best. If there was any grasping (and there wasn’t), Taylor immediately released the facemask.
The game-deciding penalty underscores the need for the NFL to embrace technology, not necessarily as part of a second-guess replay review process but as a first look at the call based on the many available camera angles. If the NFL had a video official in the booth charged with assisting the on-field crew on a real-time basis in getting all calls right, that official could have informed referee Carl Cheffers and there was no grasp and control, no twist, no turn, no push, and no pull of the facemask.
Even if an official makes that call “every time,” as Blandino claims, it doesn’t make the call right. The video evidence makes it clear that there was no violation.
The outcome couldn’t have been more dramatic, for either team. The Packers avoided falling 1.5 games behind the Vikings in the NFC North, and the Lions had, as a practical matter, a death blow applied to their season. All because the officials didn’t accurately interpret the events unfolding in front of them.
If the NFL wants seasons to hinge on such arbitrary outcomes, so be it. But those who prefer that the officials always get it right will always have the ability to complain when the correctable frailties of human perception give a team an unwarranted opportunity to win a game.