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The NFL Officially has a Problem

The NFL Officially has a Problem

An Official Crisis?

The powers that be in the NFL are not happy.

The 24 hours after the Super Bowl have been not been dominated by talk of One for the Thumb, two of the longest plays in Super Bowl history, Jerome Bettis’ triumphant departure from the NFL, or even Big Ben posting the worst quarterback rating for a winning signal caller. Nobody’s even talking about the lame show that the ancient, washed up group formerly deserving of the title The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll put on at halftime.

No, the buzz is all about the officiating. That’s the absolute last thing that Tags and company want to be the talk of the town. And it’s not just the lunatic fringe on the message boards and call-in shows that are in an uproar over the zebras; the major newspapers and network TV have the story plastered all over the place as well. It’s enough to make Paul Tagliabue wish that there had been a wardrobe malfunction this year or wish that they had allowed the racier versions of the GoDaddy.com commercials to be shown, anything at all to take attention away from the guys in the striped shirts.

There were four calls that are drawing most of the attention today, calls that all went against Seattle and possibly cost them a net of some 18 points or more in a game that they lost by 11. Those four are the offensive pass interference on Darrell Jackson, the touchdown awarded to Roethlisberger just before halftime, the holding call on Seattle that called back a pass that went to the Steelers one, and the personal foul called on Matt Hasselbeck when he tackled the defender who had intercepted his pass.

They were all peculiar in their own way. The pass interference call was a late one, coming only after the Steeler defender turned and complained to the official, who had shown no inclination to throw a flag before that. The TD call on Big Ben’s run was also a delayed call. If the ball did indeed eke over the goal line as he was going down, why did the official not make the call immediately? Instead, he waited until Roethlisberger had pushed the ball over goal after he was clearly down. The holding call looked like nothing other than routine pass blocking and the cut block called on Hasselbeck was just a flat-out missed call.

This comes on top of a postseason filled with questionable calls, from a pass interference flag against New England to a reversal of an interception by the Steelers for which the league issued an apology.

The Redskins had more than their share of controversial calls in their games this year. In Denver, an apparent safety was overturned on replay under a questionable interpretation of the tuck rule. The call on Mike Alstott’s two-point conversion that represented the winning points during the regular season in Tampa Bay was just the last of several head-scratchers by the referee crew on that day.

The cumulative effect of all of this has been quite damaging to the NFL. An unscientific poll of members of the CPND Redskins Addiction Board here shows that a majority believes that NFL officials have performed with “alarming incompetence”. Anyone who is going to shell out money to attend an athletic event or invest the time to watch one on TV wants the outcome to be determined by the players, not by the officials. The more people perceive that the team that gets the calls is the one that wins, the less popular the game will be.

The worse news for Tagliabue is that people thinking that the referees are merely grossly incompetent is the better case scenario here. There are those who are calling the very integrity of the officials into question. Many of them are bitter Seahawk fans who probably will calm down and angry gamblers who gave the four. But not all of them are from the Pacific Northwest and not all of them are going to go back to watching football as usual.

I am not one to believe that there is any conspiracy to tilt the officiating towards one team or another. As a practical matter, there isn’t enough gain in having, say, the Steelers win to balance the risk of the incredible damage the league would suffer if word of any plot to fix a game were to get out.

That being said, I will say this. If a crew of officials, for whatever reason, was inclined to fix a game they would have made exactly the calls they made against the Seahawks on Sunday. The timing and impact of the calls could not have been better had there been a sinister plot to ensure that the Steelers would be crowned as champs.

Perception is reality, especially in a sports league. The NFL will only remain popular if people perceive that it’s on the up and up. The events of Super Bowl Sunday will no doubt harden the suspicions of the conspiracy theorists and push more people into the ranks of the cynics.

It’s enough to make Tagliabue long for the days of Janet Jackson and Desperate Housewives.

In the next installment here, this observer’s suggestions on how to fix some of the problems with the officiating.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book chronicles every game the Redskins played from 1937 through 2001. It is available at www.RedskinsGames.com

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 23, 33 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins  and NBC Sports Washington.

Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense—NFL coaches and others like to tell you that competition determines who wins roster spots in the league. And that may be true to an extent. But many roster spots are predetermined by a player’s contract situation and/or draft status. It is unlikely that an undrafted player like Fish Smithson will win a roster spot over Troy Apke even if the former outperforms the latter in every way during training camp. Apke was a fourth-round pick and they aren’t going to give up on him in favor of an undrafted player. It would cost $3.2 million in dead cap to cut Stacy McGee and only $150,000 to move on from Ziggy Hood so McGee will win a “competition” that is even remotely close. (Offensive projection here)

Redskins will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor at training camp—While this is something that could add a little spice to the Jets’ visit to Richmond, don’t look for much of anything to happen. Zach Brown might give a little extra shove to Pryor here and there but he’s not going to do anything that will draw blood or even cause a deep bruise. If nothing else, a big hit on Pryor would invite retaliation by the Jets on Josh Doctson or Paul Richardson. And that might lead to more retaliation and you end up with a brawl like the Redskins and Texans had a couple of years ago.

Trent Williams very much of approves of Smith and Guice—Williams is going into his ninth NFL season and he has yet to be on the winning side of a playoff game. He thinks that Alex Smith and Derrius Guice can help change that. 

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list—I normally greet this list with a big yawn and this year was no exception. But I do find the omission of Smith, who led the NFL in passer rating and was third in adjusted net yards per attempt, odd. In an update to this post, the NFL released the names of the top 10 players and Smith is not on it. He shouldn’t be, but he should be somewhere on the 100, perhaps in the middle of the pack. The only Redskins player to appear on the list was Trent Williams at No. 57.

The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger—It’s likely that nine players who are 25 or younger will line up as starters for the Redskins this year. I don’t have a rundown of how that compares to the rest of the league but it’s notable that in the last two years six of them have replaced players who were either approaching age 30 or over it. I’ll engage in some speculation here and say that five of the young players—Daron Payne, Derrius Guice, Preston Smith, Jonathan Allen, and Montae Nicholson—are good enough to potentially make a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins defensive tackle Dave Butz was born on this date in 1950. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 33
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 47
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 70

The Redskins last played a game 174 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 78 days. 

In case you missed it

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Redskins schedule preview: Week 16 vs. Titans

Redskins schedule preview: Week 16 vs. Titans

We’re previewing every game of the 2018 season with a look forward and a look back. Up today, it’s the game against the Titans. 

Week 16 December 22 or 23, Nissan Stadium (the date of the game will be determined no later than Week 8 in early November)

2017 Titans: 9-7, Second in AFC South, lost in the divisional round 

Projected 2018 wins per Westgate SuperBook: 8

Early line: Redskins +5.5

Key additions: CB Malcolm Butler, DT Bennie Logan, RB Dion Lewis

Key losses: DT Sylvester Williams, RB DeMarco Murray

Biggest questions: 

  • QB Marcus Mariota improved from his rookie year and had a solid 2016. But he regressed last season. In which direction is his career headed?
  • After head coach Mike Mularkey took the Titans to the second round of the playoffs he was summarily fired. Will they regret making to switch to Mike Vrabel?

Series history

The all-time series between the two teams is tied a 6-6; the teams split six games when the franchise was the Houston Oilers and they have gong 3-3 since the move to Tennessee. 

Series notables

The first time: October 10, 1971, RFK Stadium—The Redskins offense didn’t score a touchdown but that often didn’t matter when George Allen was the head coach as they still won 22-13. Washington’s scoring came on five Curt Knight field goals and on an 18-yard interception return by defensive end Ron McDole. That touchdown came on one of five takeaways by the Redskins defense. 

The last time: October 19, 2014, FedEx Field—Quarterback Kirk Cousins was struggling in the first half, losing a fumble and throwing a head-scratching interception. With the Redskins trailing the 2-4 Titans 10-6, Jay Gruden decided it was time for a change and Colt McCoy came in to play QB in the second half. 

Things clicked immediately as McCoy threw a short pass to Pierre Garçon, who turned upfield and rolled in for a 70-yard touchdown. It was back and forth in the second half and the Redskins were trailing 17-16 when they got the ball on their own 20 with 3:14 to play. McCoy led a 10-play drive that consumed all of the remaining time and culminated in a 22-yard Kai Forbath field goal to win it 19-17. 

The best time: November 3, 1991, RFK Stadium—To win nine straight NFL games to start out a season, you need solid blocking, accurate passing, hard-hitting tackling, inspired play calling, crisp execution and, as was the case today, a little bit of luck. Chip Lohmiller kicked a 41-yard field goal for Washington to give the Redskins a 16-13 overtime win over Houston. Darrell Green’s interception at the Houston 33 set up the kick. All of that, however, would not have happened if not for Oiler placekicker Ian Howfield. 

After Houston tied the game on a one-yard run by Lorenzo White with 1:42 left in the game, Brian Mitchell fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Oilers prime field position. Howfield came in for a 33-yard field goal attempt with one second left. It appeared that the winning streak would end at eight. “You don’t exactly give up, but you’re not far from it,” said Andre Collins. 

The snap was perfect as was the hold, but Howfield’s kick was wide right. 

On Houston’s second offensive play of overtime, Oiler quarterback Warren Moon got bumped as he threw an out pass and Green picked it off. Three Ernest Byner runs preceded Lohmiller’s game-ending kick. 

The worst time: October 30, 1988, Astrodome—Washington entered the contest riding a three-game winning streak and appeared to be rounding into form to defend their Super Bowl title. Warren Moon threw three touchdown passes to Drew Hill, however, and the Redskins took a 41-17 whipping that wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate.

Redskins schedule series

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS  and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS  and on Instagram @RichTandler