The replacement officials in the "Monday Night Football" game between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos exhibited the usual blend of Three Stooges hi-jinks and Keystone Kops "kraziness" -- though they were not nearly as humorous in either case. Several delays stretched the game beyond the breaking point of patience, but the two most embarrassing instances of officiating misconduct came in cases where nobody on the crew, led by referee Ken Roan, quite understood just how the ball should be spotted after a penalty.
The first debacle came late in the second quarter. The Broncos had fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 43-yard line. Peyton Manning threw a short pass to the left side, and receiver Brandon Stokley couldn't bring it in because he was held by cornerback Dominique Franks. The penalty should have given Denver first-and-10 from the Atlanta 38, because defensive holding on an incomplete pass is a spot foul.
Instead, the refs moved the ball up to the Atlanta 32-yard line. We're not sure why this was an 11-yard penalty, but since the college rule for defensive holding puts the ball 10 yards ahead, and the first-down marker was set at the 42-yard line, we can only assume that the crew messed up twice by spotting the foul from the first-down spot, and doubling the penalty yardage.
Then again, given the ways in which some of these refs have called games, we'd accept any excuse from Martian communication to bad biorhythms.
The second penalty spotting error occurred with 8:19 left in the third quarter. Matt Ryan ran from the Denver 14-yard line to the Denver 10-yard line, and Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was called for defensive holding on receiver Harry Douglas. The head official called the penalty, and then said, "Five-yard penalty from the previous spot." ESPN's Mike Tirico correctly pointed that out from the booth.
Problem is, defensive holding is a 5-yard penalty from the end of the play in this case. So, the ball was spotted at the 10-yard line, and just before the Falcons were to snap the ball for the next play, the whistle blew, and the officiating supervisor upstairs called down to the field. After yet another interminable delay, the ball was spotted at the 5-yard line. Ryan threw a touchdown to Roddy White on the next play, but he was obviously unhappy about the delay. Given the amount of no-huddle the Falcons run (or would like to run should the officials allow them to), it's easily understood.
Of course, the NFL will come down with its usual spin that the replacement refs somehow performed admirably and valiantly under difficult circumstances, but the evidence is clearer than ever, especially on a national telecast like this -- the NFL is clearly sacrificing the integrity of the game to put its collective boot on the throats of a group of real officials who are missed now more than ever.
After the game, Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young went off on the league for its seeming indifference to this comedy of errors.
"Everything about the NFL now is inelastic for demand. There's nothing they can do right now to hurt the demand for the game. The bottom line is, they don't care. Player safety doesn't matter in this case. Bring in the Division III officials — it doesn't matter. In the end you're still going to watch the game, we're going to all complain and moan and gripe but … it doesn't matter. Go ahead, gripe all they want. I'm going to rest. Let them eat cake."