The Chain Gang

You cannot butcher a pivotal first-down spot any worse than these NFL refs did on Thursday night

October 29, 2021

NFL officiating is facing some serious issues at the moment. Roughing-the-passer calls have spiraled out of control and “taunting” penalties are quickly closing the gap. Tick-tacky holding and pass interference calls continue to bog down games and hand teams undeserved chunk yardage in key situations. Those are often difficult judgement calls with huge ramifications. It’s understandable that the NFL has placed emphasis on them, but that emphasis has been accompanied by a nasty, unintended side effect:

In their effort to police the big stuff, NFL referees have forgotten how to do the basics, like spotting the football, for instance.

That’s from last night’s TNF thriller between the Packers and Cardinals. 40 seconds left in a three-point ballgame, Cardinals driving inside the Packers 10 yard line looking for the win. Kyler Murray takes the snap on 2nd-and-1, keeps it to the right and clearly gets taken down a half yard short of the line to gain. The side judge immediately comes running in and appears to have the correct spot before the back judge—who has no angle on the play—arrives, motions first down, picks up the ball, and tosses it to the Arizona center, much to the surprise of Joe Buck and probably everyone else in the stadium as well.

The cynic inside says he must have had the over. The realist says this is just the way it is in the NFL now. The attention to fundamental details has lapsed in lieu of performative personal foul calls and The War on Defensive Backs. In this case, the referees were bailed out by a game-clinching Packers interception a few moments later, but if Arizona had gone on to punch it in and win the game, Green Bay would have the pitchforks and torches in hand this morning. Rightfully so, if you ask us. The time for revolution is at hand, but instead of breaking the chains, we’re simply asking that the refs use them.