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Questionable non-call of intentional grounding fueled Bears’ final drive

It’s one thing for officiating to be less-than-perfect. It’s another thing for it to be inconsistent.

On Monday night, the officiating was inconsistent on the question of intentional grounding.

The Vikings were called for grounding in the first half. In the fourth quarter, with the Bears facing second and 10 just on the other side of the 50 with 75 seconds left, quarterback Justin Fields threw a desperation pass from the middle of the field just as Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter was about to bring him down. Since Fields was in the pocket, the ball needs to be thrown in the direction of and land in the vicinity of a receiver.

The ball nearly struck the wall behind the sideline. It was in the area of the closest receiver, tight end Cole Kmet, only in the sense that it was in the same area code.

Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell was seen talking to the officials after the non-call, which would have left the Bears facing third and 24 from their own 36.

“We got called on a similar play,” O’Connell told reporters. “My question was how are the plays different?”

They weren’t. Fields heaved the ball to avoid a sack, just as Vikings quarterback Josh Dobbs had done. It never, ever could have been caught, by anyone. It wasn’t even reasonably close. It did not land in the vicinity of Kmet. It didn’t even land in the vicinity of the field.

And while the officials have been increasingly loose with the application of the rule, presumably to reduce the number of hits on quarterbacks at a time when far too many are injured, there needs to be consistency. The Vikings were called for it. The Bears weren’t. In the same game.

It underscores the power and influence that the officials, vested with broad and uncontestable discretion in certain areas, can have over a game. On the very next play, the Bears ended up in range for a chip-shot game winner. If grounding had been called, the outcome of the game quite likely would have been different.

Granted, the Vikings had been outplayed all night. They were lucky to even have a chance to win the game. But the rules should always be applied accurately. And, more importantly, they should be applied consistently.