By Trey Gregory
It’s all anyone in the sports world is talking about today. At the end of last night’s Lions and Seahawks game the score was 10-13 in favor of Seattle. Detroit moved the ball into Seattle territory in hopes of scoring a go-ahead touchdown. Matt Stafford snapped the ball at about the 12-yard line and connected with Calvin Johnson around the 8-yard line
Johnson then ran toward the end zone and dove for the score around the 3-yard line. While Johnson was in the air, Kam Chancellor made a spectacular defensive play and punched the ball out of Johnson’s possession, causing a goal line fumble. The ball bounced toward the back of the end zone and Seattle’s K.J. Wright purposely punched the ball out of bounds.
The game was basically over. Seattle drove down the field, maintained possession until the clock ran down and then sealed the game with a victory formation.
Bad break for the Lions, right? Well, most of us had no idea just how bad.
After the game, it was revealed that it is against NFL rules for a defender to purposely knock a ball out of the end zone; he has to let it go out on its own. An official was standing right next to Wright when the play happened and either didn’t know the rule or decided not to call it. The real ironic part is that this was the same end zone of the famous “Fail Marry” play from a couple years ago.
There’s plenty of blame going around today. The common arguments are that the referees are pathetic and should do better, that Johnson shouldn’t have fumbled the ball in the first place, that somehow Jim Caldwell is at fault because he wasn’t angrier or that the rule is stupid and obscure and doesn’t matter.
Here’s the thing. The ball was going out of bounds whether Wright touched it or not and I think the line judge knew that. Why possibly change the outcome of the game when the ball was going out anyway?
Nobody knew this rule. John Gruden and Mike Tirico were the announcers for the game. Both have been around football for a long time and are great at their jobs; Gruden even won a Super Bowl as a head coach. Neither knew the rule until it was explained to them later. After the game, Steve Young, Trent Dilfer and Ray Lewis provided commentary from the field and all admitted that they never hear of the rule.
My point? If these guys, who have been around football most of their lives, didn’t know the rule then there’s a very good chance that K.J. Wright didn’t either. Maybe the referee realized that and decided not to turnover an amazing defensive play and possibly change the outcome of the game.
That is certainly understandable, and I’m tempted to agree with that logic. The Lions basically didn’t deserve to win that game. They were outplayed most of the game and it was amazing the score was that close at the end. Then, at the moment they needed a play the most, their best player couldn’t get it done and fumbled the ball at the goal line and the ball was going out of bounds anyway. It’s hard to argue that the official should have thrown the flag.
The reason I don’t agree is that there are multiple flags thrown every game for penalties that didn’t affect the play at all. How many times have we seen a run play to the left and the official throw a flag for holding on the right side of the field, nowhere near the play?
Ridiculous penalties like this get called every game and I would argue that they often change the outcome of a game. Just because it doesn’t happen within the last two minutes of a game doesn’t mean that a score that was set up off a bad call isn’t game changing.
I would prefer that officials be allowed to use their brains and not call penalties that had nothing to do with the play, but that isn’t the way the NFL wants it. So, if we’re going to be forced to endure these awful and meaningless calls, at least be consistent.
I think the reason people are so upset is because of the inconsistency. Either allow officials to make judgment calls or make sure they throw a flag for every penalty. Seeing as how people are already fed up with the amount of penalties in a game, however, maybe it’s a better idea to allow some discretion.
Another common comment heard today is some variations of how bad people feel for the Lions. They are now 0-4 and their season is basically over. I refuse to go down that road though. The Lions should have played better the entire game and should have closed the game out. It’s not the officials fault they lost the three games before and that Johnson fumbled.
There’s also no saying Detroit scored if the penalty was called, or that Seattle wouldn’t have driven down the field and scored anyway.
Who I do feel bad for though are the Detroit fans. They didn’t deserve to endure four losses in a row only to hear that they were dealt a disservice from the officiating crew.
That is the real moral of this story. It’s not about the players, coaches or officials.
The NFL wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fans and they deserve a better product. The NFL owes it to fans to do a better job. Improve the replay system and possibly hire full-time officials. The NFL is the only American professional sporting league with part-time officials after all.
At the end of the day, fans just want to see a good day and an even playing field for their team to have a fair chance of winning. The officials should never be the story and the NFL needs to take more steps to guarantee that happens.