Remember that 15-yard penalty on Ndamukong Suh(notes) on Sunday that helped the Chicago Bears eek out a victory over the Detroit Lions? You know, the one that looked like a penalty at first but then appeared to be completely legal after looking at it on replay?
Well, even with the benefit of replay and hindsight, the NFL still fined Suh $15,000 for the play. And folks, from the Lions to high-ranking executives with other teams, aren't happy about it.
I've talked to a bunch of people about this play and they all say the same thing: In real-time, they thought it was a penalty. It wasn't only until after watching replays that Suh's hit looked legal.
Upon slowing down the tape to one-quarter speed and looking at a few different angles, it becomes evident that Suh's play wasn't dirty. He was making a hard tackle that appeared to be illegal because of the sheer force and power with which he brought down the quarterback. That forearm shiver to the back of the head sure looked like a penalty, even though replays indicate it was more of a push. (The rule states players are prohibited from "striking, swinging, or clubbing to the head, neck or face with the heel, back or side of the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow or clasped hand.") In real time, though, something about it looked wrong.
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chair of the NFL's Competition Committee, appeared on NFL Network on Wednesday and hedged when asked about the call, indicating that he didn't know why referee Ed Hochuli threw the flag nor why Suh was later fined. (Why is McKay appearing on TV to talk about flags thrown on opponents in the first place? He might not agree with the call for valid reasons, but as a Falcons employee he must have hated it for personal ones. That call helped the 9-3 Chicago Bears win a game; a not-so-trivial fact that could affect the playoff implications of his 10-2 Falcons if things fall a certain way.)
Parsing like this is a problem with a dependence on replay and the reason it should never be used for anything more than what can currently be reviewed. We're watching plays in real speed that are sometimes slowed down to frame-by-frame movements. On replay, it's something like watching a different play. This is all right when trying to make definitive, unambiguous decisions, like whether a receiver got both feet in bounds on a catch. But on a bang-bang play like this, a ref isn't throwing a flag based on what you see on slowed-down replay, he's making one based on what happens in the split-second of game action. It sounds like a small distinction, but it's not. Football isn't played in slo-mo, so why are football decisions made that way?
The more you rely on replay, the less point there is for any official to be on the field in the first place. (And if you start to review penalties, this would almost certainly have the affect of making refs even more whistle-happy.)
Regardless of replay review, the NFL had ample time to determine whether this play should have been fined and made the wrong decision. That Suh was fined $15,000 for getting a flag thrown on him, but the refs in the Ravens-Steelers game who missed a potentially paralyzing hit on Heath Miller(notes) didn't get fined a thing (even though JaMeel McClain(notes) was later fined $40,000 in lieu of a flag) speaks to the NFL's hypocrisy on the issue. The league isn't concerned with player safety as much as it is with player penalty enforcement. Suh is the latest, but certainly not the last, victim.