Blowing calls like a referee

I’m only a retired mid-level soccer referee.  I have never refereed a football game much less a professional one.  I have blown plenty of calls in my life.  I want to take a look at two blown calls from this weekend’s NFL Conference Championship games. One is a typical blown call and the other is a career-ender.

First, let’s take a look at what I think happened with a “typical” blown call in the Patriots-Chiefs game.  The Chiefs are penalized fifteen yards for a blow to the head.  Brady’s head is not touched.


The official who threw the flag was reading the situation, the arm, the ball, the reaction and everything except the actual contact. He had half a second to process a pass rusher making a reach move to the quarterback. He saw contact. He saw the quarterback’s head move slightly funny. And he threw the flag despite not seeing the actual contact because his training and his experience put all of the other cues into a coherent story that led him to see a foul even when there was not a foul.

A referee should only call what they see. They should not call what they expect. The should not call the situation. They should not call the player’s reaction.

Yet we cheat.

I’ve been awarded penalty kicks on reading reactions as my brain swore I was seeing a trip despite not seeing the actual clip on the ankle or the stuck out leg. Most of the time when I look at the tape, I was right.  However I have screwed up on reading very funny body reactions that were natural and not due to illegal contact. I had to make a bang bang decision and I got it wrong. I think that is what happened here. Every cue was saying “flag” but for the actual contact.

Now let’s go to what should be a career ender for two officials:

There are two fouls on this play. The first is the obvious mugging/defensive pass interference. The defender (in white) can’t make more than incidental contact with the receiver until the ball gets to a catching position. The second foul is targeting the head of the receiver (in black.)

Two officials were supposed to be watching this event.  I could understand if one saw something and the other saw nothing illegal.  I could understand if both officials saw something but did not agree with what the other saw.  I can understand a lot if there was a flag.

This is clinic tape on what pass interference looks like.  The defender ran through the receiver well before the ball arrived.  It should never be missed.  It is the equivalent of a soccer referee crew missing a flying crane kick going studs up into the face of an opponent or a World Cup crew in a knock-out game missing a shoe string tackle to prevent a break-away.  These are calls that should never be missed.

I hope that I have never missed a “never miss” event.  I have seen fellow referees miss “never miss” calls.  One was just not looking where he needed to be looking as he was gassed and out of position and the studs up contact to the ribs was behind a scrum.  The assistant referee was seventy yards away and also screened.  Another the referee was staring at a punch and his brain froze.  The assistant referee got it in a second after she processed that the center was out to lunch.

There was no physical exhaustion or screened scrum excuse.  This is a decision that should lead to at least one if not two officials to be hanging up their whistles.

41 replies
  1. 1
    Corner Stone says:

    That No Call in Rams v Saints really was the ballgame. I always say don’t leave it close enough for the ref to determine the game but that was a perfect storm.

  2. 2
    Corner Stone says:

    Also too, since OT, can I just say I am fucking sick of hearing about Bob Mueller.

  3. 3
    Corner Stone says:

    Also, also too. Let me just say that mixing Tropicana Probiotics Strawberry+Banana and Sunkist Strawberry over ice is freaking delicious.

  4. 4
    The Thin Black Duke says:

    For those folks that hate the Patriots, that non-call was a disaster because I think the Saints would have beaten them in the Super Bowl. And the karmic payback waiting for the Rams is going to be terrible.

  5. 5
  6. 6
    Betty Cracker says:

    The Saints were definitely robbed. I thought the roughing the passer call was bad but somewhat more defensible — I mean, there was contact, maybe the angle was to blame, etc. But that flagrant pass interference against the Saints that wasn’t called? No excuses, IMO.

  7. 7
    mozzerb says:

    It is the equivalent of a soccer referee crew missing a flying crane kick going studs up into the face of an opponent

    If you’re thinking of the Schumacher-Battiston incident, I don’t think the referee of that one hung up his whistle …

  8. 8
    Barbara says:

    @Corner Stone: I hate play-off games for this exact reason. I didn’t watch. I have decided not to let myself get worked up over teams I don’t really follow, and have tried to detach from football more generally.

  9. 9
    JPL says:

    @The Thin Black Duke: After watching the Saints beat Philly, I thought that they would win the Super Bowl. Some Falcon fans would not be happy with a Patriots/Saints match-up, because they are both teams are disliked.

  10. 10
  11. 11
    MJS says:

    @raven: Exactly. So tired of this “cost them the game” bullshit. So weird that the blown call made Brees throw an interception in OT. So weird that New Orleans got called for one offensive holding the whole game. I guess that was the one and only time it occurred. Very weird.

  12. 12
    kindness says:

    New Orleans was robbed. You can’t convince me money didn’t change hands with the lack of flags on that call.

    The Mob money spoke.

  13. 13
    🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)  🗳🌷 says:

    JFC. Pasty Bricks is linking to concussions in the NFL. Look, buddy, we get it. I even happen to agree with you on this, but give it a rest! We both know you’re only doing this in some pathetic attempt to troll and feel superior to all the meanies here at BJ.

  14. 14
    raven says:

    Rams fans wanted Vinovich taken off this game last week. One even started a petition to get him removed, and it received more than 8,000 signatures. Obviously, Vinovich was never going to be taken off the game simply because the Rams were 0-8 with him on the call, but fans should be thankful this didn’t work.

    Both teams benefited from blown calls and swallowed whistles, but in the end, that pass interference will be remembered most, considering it had the biggest impact on the game.

  15. 15
    MJS says:

    @kindness: Weird that the refs waited so long to throw the game. “The Mob” would not have been happy if the refs waited too long.

  16. 16
    Swiftfox says:

    Saints should have; Rams were the better team. Riveron should lose his job as supervisor as well for not overturning the call on the field.

  17. 17
    JPL says:

    @kindness: I don’t know if mob money was involved, but both refs missed the call which is unusual.

  18. 18
    raven says:

    @Swiftfox: He can’t overturn a non-reviewable call.

  19. 19
    philpm says:

    According to the defender on the play, the official closest to the play told him he didn’t throw the flag because he thought the ball had been tipped. Problem is, that’s not his call to make in that situation. His job was strictly to watch for contact and make sure the player stayed in bounds if the catch was made. The tip call would be made by an official near the line of scrimmage. That explanation, if true, should get at least one official fired yesterday.

  20. 20
    raven says:

    Hey football haters, I’m sure you’d be welcome.’

    On Super Bowl Sunday, members of Westboro Baptist Church — the Kansas-based hate group infamous for picketing everything from gay pride parades to the funerals of slain soldiers — intend to hold protests at several North Georgia churches and outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

  21. 21
    MJS says:

    The Saints were called for 3 penalties the entire game. Half their average. So either they found a way to clean up their game, or there were other missed calls, and those claiming one, and only one, “cost” the game need to learn about “recency bias”

  22. 22
    Gozer says:

    I guess the NFL cartel is really trying to drum up interest football interest in LA.

  23. 23
    grandpa john says:

    @Swiftfox: The idiocy of that of course is why the hell would some calls be non-reviewable. that is supposedly why the have replay cameras , to make sure that calls are correct, but in neither instance was this the case, the NFL rule book is awash with stupidity. In the case of the bad call for roughing the passer.In NCAA this call would have automatically been reviewed, both of them probably. and the Idiotic overtime procedure is laughingly an abomination, Colleges,even high schools and recreational little league foot ball has that worked out to be fair to both teams

  24. 24
    JPL says:

    @MJS: What about the Rams? Were they called for fewer penalties during the game? I don’t know their average penalties.

  25. 25
    MJS says:

    @JPL: Rams also average 6. They were called for 7.

  26. 26
    edmund dantes says:

    I hate looking at plays in isolation, but if we are going to do it.

    There is an obvious DPI call on the Chiefs the other side of the “phantom” roughing the passer call that was not called. So the chiefs lived and died by a ref screwing up.

  27. 27

    Defender was in position to knock the ball down- didn’t even try. Playing the man all the way.

  28. 28
    RSA says:


    The Saints were called for 3 penalties the entire game. Half their average.

    Standard deviation is 2.9.

  29. 29
    edmund dantes says:

    @grandpa john: You are on the same side of this as Bill Belichick. He has wanted for a long time for every thing to be reviewable. You still only get two challenges, but you get to challenge everything.

    He’s submitted it several times to the competition committee. It gets rejected every time. Maybe this is the year it passes.

  30. 30
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)  🗳🌷: Would like to see Broccoli Pus sans protective gear blindsided by an NFL linebacker at full speed. None of the Kewl Kidz has seen fit to banhammer it into the ‘leventy-seventh dimension, so that’s probably the only way we’re gonna be rid of the insufferable arsehole.

  31. 31
    ChuckInAustin says:

    Officiating has been sub-par all year. In the late game when they ruled NE muffed the punt the official signaled touchdown. There’s no way that can be a touchdown. You can’t advance a muffed kick. An official in the championship game should know that rule you would think.

  32. 32
    edmund dantes says:

    Kansas City Reporter catches someone shining a laser on Brady throughout the game.

    Man those Cheatriot… oh…

  33. 33
    Duane says:

    @edmund dantes: In the KC-NE game the referees were hardly a factor until the fourth quarter. Then they became a huge factor. Being a KC fan I was disappointed.

  34. 34
    jeer9 says:

    @edmund dantes:

    The roughing the passer call was poor, though the arm did (just barely) touch Brady’s face mask. On the next play, Berry held Gronk repeatedly, grabbing his shirt, for about 10 yards and there was no flag.

    I’m not sure how you can take the Saints non-PI call and turn it around to blame NO for poor decisions (as many pundits are). Yes, they could have defended better in the last minute. Yes, the Brees interception involved lousy OL play. But a flag thrown when it clearly should have been (as well as a helmet-to-helmet infraction on a defenseless receiver) ends the game. Reminds me of the recent non-call in the Warriors/Rockets game when Durant saves a ball at the end, though his foot is clearly out of bounds and there’s a ref standing right there.

  35. 35
    different-church-lady says:

    @edmund dantes: Clearly the only remedy for this infraction is to suspend Brady for 4 games.

  36. 36
    different-church-lady says:

    @John Revolta: Yeah, I have no idea how the ref could say he thought the Rams’ player was playing the ball when he never once turns his head towards the ball.

  37. 37
    burnspbesq says:

    Bad calls are endemic in all sports. They even out in the long run. Good teams survive them.

  38. 38
    Gavin says:

    Officials do miss calls — it happens.
    However, they do also get calls right.
    Being an Ohio State fan, I’ll never forget the correct call made in the 03 national title game against Miami.
    The PI call was featured in referee magazine as one of the top 18 correct calls in sports referee history.
    “Porter [the ref] ‘s courage was exemplary, but he had the added benefit of being correct.”

    [If referee magazine isn’t impartial enough for you, here’s another link describing the no fewer than 4 fouls committed by the Miami DB on the OSU WR on that one play]

    [And here’s another link with pictures showing the missed PI which would have allowed OSU to get another first and win in regulation]

  39. 39
    JML says:

    As a Vikings fan, I can’t say I have much sympathy for Sean Payton and his team. 2009 he was the beneficiary of a phantom PI call during the NFC Championship game where he and his team engaged in bountyhunting on the QB, with repeated planned illegal hits, conduct that was considered so egregious by the league that he was later suspended for allowing this to go on. He got a super bowl ring then. This time he goes home. Karma?

  40. 40
    JimV says:

    Everybody who watched the game saw the foul. The commentators saw it from their booth. Everyone but the refs.

    The defenders behavior was incomprehensible to me. If he didn’t see or know the ball was coming toward the receiver, why was he running to assault the receiver? If he did, why not simply intercept the ball? Maybe there was an element of “Why is he doing this? There must be a justification which I didn’t see (e.g., tipped ball).” in the ref’s minds.

    There seem to be several players in each NFL game who either don’t know the rules or don’t let them govern their behavior. This bothers me. It’s the classic way to destroy a society from the inside. It’s how we wound up with Trump. (Not to over-react or anything.)

  41. 41
    derptrumpderp says:

    @JPL: Right. With wide-open gambling now legal, it seems eminently reasonable to expect history to start rhyming rather loudly re: gambling scandals.

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