NFL officiating reaching new heights of indefensible

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 08: A yellow penalty flag on the field at AT&T Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 08: A yellow penalty flag on the field at AT&T Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Cries over NFL officiating are nothing new but things are reaching critical mass in terms of terrible calls that are dramatically changing games.

On Sunday in Week 7, there were plenty of examples of bad NFL officiating being called out. Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was displeased with the referees in his team’s loss. On Thursday Night Football even, a missed pass interference call on Golden Tate helped further sink the Giants. And those are just a couple of examples.

This all led to Monday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, though. In the fourth quarter, the Lions had the lead on the road in Lambeau Field when a pair of illegal use of hands penalties, both called on Trey Flowers, changed the game.

With the Lions up 22-13, the Packers faced a third-and-10 from Detroit’s 45-yard line. Aaron Rodgers was sacked on the play but Flowers was flagged for illegal hands to the face on his outside rush. The problem, however, is that his hands never made contact with the face or facemask but were rather on the upper part of David Bakhtiari‘s chest.

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The result was a new set of downs for Green Bay, who went on to score a touchdown to cut the lead to 22-20. Then it happened again. On what was ultimately the Packers’ game-winning field goal drive, Green Bay again was bailed out on third down by the same call on Flowers when, again, the defensive end’s hands didn’t make contact with the face.

Call it home-cooking, call it bad NFL officiating or call it something filled with expletives but this can’t happen. The officials are on the field to keep the game fair, in the simplest terms. Yet, we’ve reached a critical point where they are actually doing the opposite, giving teams an advantage based on poor calls where there should be no advantage given.

To be sure, complaints about NFL officiating are nothing new. There are always fans that point to one play where a penalty should or shouldn’t have been called as a turning point, whether it’s valid or not, disregarding the rest of the game. And in the case of the Lions on Monday, if they’d not given the ball back on their final drive, this wouldn’t be an issue.

At the same time, though, the officials handicapped the Lions with those two phantom penalties late in the game. And something has to be done.

Perhaps the most frustrating issue with what seems like an inordinate amount of bad officiating in the 2019 NFL season is the lack of accountability. When mistakes are made by the officials, there is no owning up to any mistakes — no apology, explanation, consequences or anything of the like. That, more than anything, needs to change. As Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio noted, there needs to be someone or some governing body that takes up that onus.

There are always going to be mistakes made by NFL officials. An element of human error is always present and, even if the calls on Flowers were wrong, you can understand how an official watching in real time could believe that his hands were in Bakhtiari’s face. At the same time, the fact that it’s just a bad call and we have to accept that as fans is where things must change.

No, the ability to review every penalty is not the answer. It would slow the game down to near-unwatchable degrees and, more pressingly, reviewing pass interference via the new rule change has not been a particularly impactful or great addition to the game.

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However, if you have some sort of accountability given to these NFL officials, that offers something. By human nature, officials will feel the pressure of knowing that a wrong or bad call will have repercussions and, hopefully, thus improve his performance.

While it may not be a cure-all, it’s a start. Because right now, bad officiating is plaguing the NFL in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s never going to be perfect and, depending on who you ask, it shouldn’t be. But it shouldn’t be something that’s deciding games. And as was the case on Monday, in addition to others (sorry, Saints fans), that’s what poor officiating is doing right now.