Thursday night's Tampa Bay Bucs-Carolina Panthers game was everything wrong with the NFL. There was sloppy play from both teams, which is to be expected given they each just played a NFL game FOUR DAYS ago. There was bad coaching, specifically from Ron Rivera, whose time in Carolina feels like it is coming to an end. There was garbage quarterback play, though, I'll hand it to Jameis Winston, he looked OK at best, which is great for him. As for Cam Newton, well, yikes.
But the most frustrating part about these NFL games by far is the officiating. The endless use of replay makes the games completely unwatchable, a sad reality for a sport I love more than any other. But that's not entirely the refs' fault. Coaches are challenging these plays because they can, and the idiots in that command center in New York are the ones bringing everything to a standstill. This doesn't excuse the actual officiating on the field, which was atrocious on Thursday night.
The worst moment for the crew on the Panthers-Bucs game came after one of the most crucial plays of the night. On 3rd and 4 on Tampa's 45, trailing 20-14 with 2:09 to go, Newton slung a pass to D.J. Moore, who appeared to be half a yard short of the line to gain on the FOX broadcast. Then, when the first official put the ball down, it was clear he was short, which would have set up 4th and inches coming out of the two-minute warning. Pretty significant for the Bucs, as they could have ended the game with a stop.
But the ref who put the ball down at the original spot then tossed it to another ref, which is not an uncommon occurrence, only that ref decided he didn't feel like paying attention to the original spot. He placed the ball a half yard forward, enough to pick up the first down despite the Panthers not actually reaching the line to gain. Making this look much worse was the fact that the yellow line to gain was visible for TV viewers, and the fact Joe Buck and Troy Aikman couldn't help but laugh at this buffoonery:
Whoops! Amazingly, even with what's essentially a full timeout during the two-minute warning, Tampa head coach Bruce Arians didn't challenge this call. Had it happened with under two minutes to play, the refs would have just reviewed it themselves. If this whole process sounds incredibly dumb, that's because it is!
With the extra set of downs, Carolina nearly won the game, picking up two more first downs to reach Tampa's 11, then getting to the three-yard line where they faced 4th and goal. From there, Rivera got way too cute and snapped the ball to running back Christian McCaffrey, who faked a reverse and went for the pylon but was stopped short of the first-down marker. I have nothing to back this up, but I don't think a fake reverse on the three-yard line has ever worked in the history of football. Could be wrong.
Tampa did go on to win, thus making the terrible spot of the ball irrelevant. But had Carolina scored, Bucs fans would be well within their rights to cry about it Saints-fan style for weeks to come. I'm firmly against robot referees like many have suggested are an actual possibility in sports, there should be a human element, but calls like this one don't help my case.