The officials weren’t the only ones who screwed up when the Seahawks weren’t flagged for an illegal bat in Monday night’s win over the Lions. ESPN also dropped the ball by waiting until after the game to point out that Seattle should have been penalized, and the ball should have been given back to the Lions, after Calvin Johnson’s fumble into the end zone.
After the fumble, neither Mike Tirico nor Jon Gruden said anything at all about the illegal bat, which the NFL has since admitted should have been a penalty on the Seahawks that would have given the Lions first-and-goal inside the 1-yard line. That’s surprising because Tirico is a consummate professional who’s always well-prepared for any game he calls, and Gruden is a former coach well known for his obsessive attention to detail. You’d think both of them, or at least one of them, would know that rule.
But it’s even more surprising because ESPN has former NFL referee Gerry Austin in the booth on Monday nights specifically to weigh in when there’s an officiating mistake. Tirico even pointed that out on Monday night, saying, “Retired Super Bowl referee Gerry Austin up here in the booth with us” at the start of the fourth quarter. At the start of the Lions’ drive that ended with Johnson’s fumble, Austin was on the air discussing the relevant rule when Lions’ punt returner picked up his own muffed punt and ran it out of the end zone.
So where was Austin a few minutes later? Why didn’t he immediately pipe up and explain that the officials had missed a huge call? We’ve reached out to ESPN to ask that question, but we didn’t immediately hear back.
Eventually, ESPN did identify the blown call, but only after the game, several minutes later. The blown call is the biggest story of Monday night’s game, but many viewers turned off the TV and went to bed without even realizing it had happened.
The NFL’s rules are so complex that identifying bad calls immediately and explaining them clearly is a hard job. Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira does the job well on FOX, but former referee Mike Carey has struggled in a similar role on CBS. Austin is used less prominently on ESPN, but Monday night was a perfect opportunity for him to shine. Instead, we never heard a word from him until the game was over.
To its credit, ESPN has done a good job of covering the story today. Mike & Mike began their broadcast this morning with a long discussion of the blown call, and it has been prominently featured on other ESPN programming all day long. But the time to identify the blown call was when it happened, and ESPN missed it.