During the third quarter of tonight’s game, Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson grabbed the facemask of Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron, but the officials didn’t notice. At least at first.
McCarron immediately got up and called for a facemasking flag, but no flag came. Only as the teams lined up for the next play — after ESPN showed a replay of Jackson grabbing McCarron’s facemask — did referee Ed Hochuli throw his flag, blow his whistle and announce the facemasking penalty.
So that raises a question: Who told Hochuli about the facemasking on the play, which none of the officials saw live?
It seems likely that Hochuli got help, either from the replay assistant at the stadium or from NFL V.P. of Officiating Dean Blandino in the league office. That would be a violation of the league’s policies on using replay, but there’s a widespread belief around the NFL that the league regularly violates those policies.
“For those asking about the facemask, the input had to come from somewhere else. Had to be replay and it is not reviewable,” former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira wrote on Twitter. “Nobody will convince me otherwise. I don’t like it. The rules don’t allow that. I know it is about getting it right but….”
The NFL won’t admit it, but Hochuli had to have replay help in making that call. Otherwise, it would have been called immediately, and not only after ESPN showed the replay.
The league has already adopted new policies during the playoffs to allow increased communication between the league’s officiating office and the referee on the field, although those policies expressly prohibit the league office from telling the ref to throw a penalty flag.
The question, however, is whether it’s more important to follow the officiating policies to the letter, or to get the call right. It appeared tonight that someone decided getting the call right was more important, and got in Hochuli’s ear.