NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron has made a couple of replay decisions so far this season which suggest that the “clear and obvious” standard has been replaced by, well, some other standard. From the controversial Austin Seferian-Jenkins decision of a few weeks back to the phantom Zach Miller non-touchdown of Week Nine, the only thing clear and obvious is that nothing is clear and obvious when it comes to the replay process, which for the first time this year has the final decisions being made by the league office.
Which introduces another important factor in to the decision-making process for any coach contemplating the possibility of using the red challenge flag. In past years, it would have been a possible waste of a challenge (and a time out) to throw the flag in a close case. Now, maybe it’s worth a strategic roll of the dice.
The ultimate decision, based on the Seferian-Jenkins and Miller calls, depends not just on what a coach’s staff is seeing, but whether the specific circumstances of the game make it worth taking a shot. Twice, we’ve seen Riveron take a touchdown off the board when he shouldn’t have. If/when a key score comes in the fourth quarter of a close contest, throwing the red flag becomes a viable option, since there’s no way to know for sure whether the ruling on the field will definitely be confirmed.
Hopefully, coaches who use the red flag in those situations quickly will learn that the challenge was wasted, because this would mean that the NFL has retreated to the “clear and obvious” standard. As one league source opined on Saturday, the current approach will eventually “bite the league in the ass.” If/when something like that happens in a playoff game or the Super Bowl, that definitely will be the case.
Fortunately, the league office has a well-earned reputation for proactively spotting potential embarrassments and eliminating them. Oh, wait. That’s right. It doesn’t.