Top Ten Gaffes in the NFL Replacement Referee Era
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: September 25, 2012
Is it three that makes a pattern? Because three weeks into the season, we’re still thinking “This has got to be it. It can’t get any worse than this.” After last night’s shocking conclusion between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, we’ve reached a new low. In honor of this benchmark, we at The Football Girl have decided to compile a Top 10 list of the most astounding replacement referee blunders. Some resulted in injury. Others impacted the outcome of the game. Most of them left us slack-jawed or yelling at our TV’s. But they are all evidence that the NFL is suffering without its regular officials, even if the League itself won’t admit as much. Let’s just hope we aren’t back in three weeks with an updated Top 25 list.
10. Week 1, San Francisco at Green Bay
Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb returns a Week 1 punt 75 yards for a touchdown. Sure, the score was assisted by a illegal block in the back on 49ers running back Anthony Dixon. And yes, the officials threw a flag at first, leading announcers Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to assume the touchdown would be reversed. But as quickly as the flag was thrown, it was picked back up with no explanation. Touchdown Green Bay. Since the Packers ultimately lost this game, the egregiousness of this call is somewhat tempered.
9. Week 3, San Francisco at Minnesota
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh earns an additional challenge in a loss at Minnesota. I get it. Jim Harbaugh is an intimidating figure. I wouldn’t want to tell him no either. But I’m not being paid to call NFL games. (Yet. My application is pending.)
8. Week 1, Seattle at Arizona
The Seattle Seahawks are granted an additional timeout against Arizona. Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin suffered an injury, which forced a stoppage of play. When an injury occurs with less than two minutes remaining, a timeout is automatically charged to the injured player’s team. Common knowledge, right? Not for the replacement refs. Replacement official Bruce Hermansen later acknowledged his error and took blame for the error. This botched call could have put the Seahawks in position for an unfair win, but rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was unable to complete the comeback. This time, anyway.
7. Week 2, Atlanta at Denver
Replacement officials, not Peyton Manning or the Atlanta secondary, steal the show on Monday Night Football. After a Knowshon Moreno fumble and subsequent skirmish between Atlanta and Denver, the game was delayed six minutes as the replacement refs first attempted to break up the fight before agonizing over which players would be penalized. Ultimately, Atlanta defensive end Ray Edwards was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. He was identified as “93 Red”. Of course. Broncos head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio were fined $30,000 and $25,000, respectively, for their treatment of the officials.
6. Week 3, Pittsburgh at Oakland
Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey receives brutal shot to the head but no penalty flag. In one of those frightening moments all too common in the NFL, Heyward-Bey laid motionless on the field after suffering a blow to the head from Pittsburgh safety Ryan Mundy. Injuries of this nature are unfortunate and nearly impossible to eliminate altogether, but flags must be thrown when they do occur. It’s tough to argue this hit took place as a direct result of inconsistencies in the interpretation of pass interference and what constitutes a defenseless receiver since the replacements took over, but it’s equally difficult to argue Mundy’s approach wasn’t influenced by these inconsistencies. Earlier in the game, Oakland linebacker Phillip Wheeler dove directly into Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s knees in direct violation of “The Brady Rule”. It should come as no surprise that this wasn’t flagged either.
5. Week 3, Cincinnati at Washington
Melee at the end of Washington-Cincinnati matchup. What happens when a false start is committed when fewer than ten seconds remain? Don’t ask the crew in charge of Sunday’s game at FedEx Field. Washington tight end Fred Davis was flagged for a false start while the clock was stopped. The officials first announced a ten-second runoff, which would end the game; shockingly enough, the Washington coaching staff addressed the error… animatedly. After some deliberation, it was announced that there would be no time runoff, as the clock was stopped at the time of the violation, but in addition to the standard five yard penalty, 15 yards would be added for unsportsmanlike conduct. Evidently the officials don’t like it when rules are explained to them in an aggressive manner. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan responded unfavorably (and colorfully); like Fox and Del Rio before him, he should be receiving some correspondence from 345 Park Avenue later this week.
4. Week 2, Baltimore at Philadelphia
Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones called for offensive pass interference in the end zone against Philadelphia. In a back and forth battle, Jones caught what looked like a touchdown pass for Baltimore to go up 27-20 with 5:29 remaining. But a flag was thrown in response to what appeared to be equal jostling between Jones and Philadelphia cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The call was offensive pass interference on Jones, the touchdown was nullified and the Ravens were forced to settle with a field goal. Philadelphia would ultimately win the game 24-23.
3. Week 3, New England at Baltimore
Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones benefits from pass interference called on New England cornerback Devin McCourty. In a game with 24 accepted penalties, it’s tough to focus on just one, but McCourty was flagged for two questionable calls in the fourth quarter. He was called for holding receiver Torrey Smith with six minutes left in the game before the pass interference flag set up Baltimore on the seven yard line in the waning moments of the game. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker would hit a 27-yard field goal with time expiring to win the game. Or would he? Despite the ball appearing to sail over the right upright, replacement officials refused to review the kick. Or discuss it with New England head coach Bill Belichick, who responded with uncharacteristic frustration.
2. Week 3, Detroit at Tennessee
Tennessee gets 12 bonus yards in overtime against Detroit. Despite Lions head coach Jim Schwartz pleading the officials to double-check the spot awarded to the Titans after a personal foul flag, the replacement refs refused to make any adjustments. In its only possession of overtime, Tennessee was able to get within field goal range and ultimately win the game. Who knows how important those twelve yards might have been?
1. Week 3, Green Bay at Seattle
The “Fail Mary”. This latest gaffe takes the cake. And the ice cream. And the plates they’re served on. Questionable calls abounded, such as a phantom pass interference called on Sam Shields, but everything (including the nine previous items on this list) pales in comparison to this complete and utter defiance of reason. One could argue that no team should ever leave the result in the ref’s hands, and that’s true. But from start to appalling finish, the refs’ hands were all over this game.
Just for good measure, by which definition of the word could this possibly be considered “simultaneous”?
We reviewed many eligible candidates for this list, but were ultimately forced to narrow it down to ten. Which disasters did we miss? Sound off with your favorite awful moments in the comments section below!
Kim O'Hara is the Associate Editor of TheFootballGirl.com. She is an avid fan of sports in general, but the NFL in particular. She has also been a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @arahomik
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