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Referee communication a problem as flag on Texans is picked up

Terry McAulay

AP

In a bizarre moment in the first quarter of tonight’s game in Houston, a penalty on the Texans was initially called, then waved off without explanation.

Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph clearly committed an illegal contact penalty on a Colts third down incompletion, which should have given the Colts an automatic first down. Referee Terry McAulay announced the penalty, and the Colts’ offense huddled up for the next play.

Then, McAulay told Colts coach Chuck Pagano that there was no penalty after all. There was no apparent explanation given. Former NFL referee Mike Carey said on the CBS broadcast that the penalty was waved off because Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was outside the pocket when he threw the pass. However, it still looked like Joseph could have been flagged for defensive holding.

More importantly, even if Joseph hadn’t committed a penalty, McAulay did a poor job of communicating what had happened. The referee shouldn’t announce a penalty until he has conferred with his fellow officials to ensure that they’re all on the same page. And in a rare occasion when the referee does change a call after announcing it, he needs to make sure he explains the change to both teams, and to the fans. That’s why referees have microphones.

The call was reminiscent of last year’s Lions-Cowboys playoff game, when a pass interference penalty on the Cowboys was picked up after it had been announced. NFL referees need to get better at communicating about why flags are thrown, and why they’re picked up.

After the flag was picked up, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri made a field goal to give Indianapolis an early lead.