The most crucial officiating decision of Week One in the NFL may have come in St. Louis, where referee Jeff Triplette at first wrongly ruled that the Rams had used an invalid fair catch signal on the Seahawks’ onside kick in overtime. After a consultation, Triplette corrected himself, ruling that the Rams’ recovery of the onside kick had been legal. The Rams benefitted from their good field position from recovering the onside kick, and won the game in overtime.
But a question remains: Why did Triplette get the call wrong in the first place, and what information did he use to correct himself?
According to former head of NFL officiating Mike Pereira, the most likely explanation is that the replay assistant — in violation of league protocols — contacted Triplette to tell him that the Seahawks’ onside kick had not bounced off the ground, as Triplette originally believed.
“I’m going to tell you something. Jeff Triplette and his crew, how did they arrive at this? How did they get from the ball being kicked into the ground, which they didn’t expect, to have it not being kicked into the ground? You know those communication systems that you see officials wearing now? He’s got the microphone on and the headset? Things have become so complicated,” Pereira said on FOX Sports Radio, via ESPN. “They’re not going to admit this, but somebody got into Jeff Triplette’s ear from the press box and said, ‘Jeff, that ball wasn’t kicked into the ground.’ Then he changed it based on that information. That information is coming from the replay official who sees the play, even though it’s not reviewable. And colleges are doing the same thing now. You don’t just have the seven people on the field. You have an eighth person in the NFL when you count the replay guy or even New York looking in and watching from New York with communication to the stadium. . . . So it’s become so much more complicated that this communication system is being used to get things right, which I’m actually OK with.”
If the replay assistant contacted Triplette to tell him he got it wrong, then the replay assistant was overstepping his bounds. That particular penalty is not reviewable, and even if it were reviewable, the replay assistant’s job would only be to help the referee review the play, not to correct the referee.
But even a die-hard Seahawks fan would have to grudgingly admit that getting the call right should be more important than following the protocols to the letter. And in this case, they got the call right. If the replay assistant helped to get a crucial call right, that’s a good thing.
Which raises a question: Why do the NFL’s administrative protocols prevent the replay assistant from helping the referee get calls right? It’s one thing to limit replay reviews to avoid unnecessarily delaying the game, but in this case the game was being delayed because the officials were conferring about the call anyway. As long as the officials are having a conference on the field, why shouldn’t the replay assistant tell the referee what he saw?
The ultimate goal should be getting the call right. If the replay assistant helped the referee get the call right in St. Louis, then the NFL should thank him — and change the rules so that replay assistants can continue to help referees going forward.