On Thanksgiving, the Vikings beat not only the 11 players in Honolulu blue and silver but also the folks in black and white stripes.
At least three horrible calls from referee Tony Corrente’s crew helped open the door for a potential Detroit Lions comeback. From a catch by receiver Kenny Golladay that set up a touchdown that cut the score at the half from 20-3 to 20-10 (the ball hit the ground and moved, and it was much more clear and obvious that the Zach Miller reversal from earlier in the season) to a horrific pass interference non-call when receiver Stefon Diggs was mugged as the ball was landing on what would have helped the Vikings stretch the lead to 30-13 or 34-13 to a goofy taunting call on quarterback Case Keenum for flipping the ball in the direction of Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, it almost seemed as if the officials were trying to give the game to the home team.
After the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer stopped short, somehow, of getting himself in trouble with the league office.
“We almost lost our composure a couple times,” Zimmer said. “We study each crew going into the game. I told them it could be like this today. They’ve got to play clean, smart football and (long, awkward pause] . . . I shouldn’t say anything else.”
I’ll say it for him. It was bad enough to trigger two thoughts. One, pass interference must be reviewable. Even though it’s inherently a judgment call, sometimes it’s clear and obvious that the judgment was applied completely incorrectly. Second, while I’m a firm believer that the fix is never in, moments like this make me wonder whether the ratings dip has resulted in an unspoken message to give calls to a team that is on the verge of getting blown out, in order to help avoid it. And if I’m wondering, other people are, too.
Several years ago, the Commissioner admitted that he always roots for the team that is trailing. At the time he said it, the league continued to be in unchecked growth mode. Now that the pie is shrinking, maybe it makes sense to find a not-so-subtle way to keep games closer.
That said, I still don’t believe it’s happening. Incompetence in these matters is always a more reasonable explanation than design. But with mistakes that are so obvious and with limited procedures for fixing them, it’s not crazy to at least wonder whether human error is being steered a certain way. To avoid that kind of thinking, the league needs to be committed to correcting all correctable errors.