The NFL declined to make Mike Pereira, the league's vice president of officiating, available to Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday to discuss two controversial calls from games that helped the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots to victories in Week 13.
The first call was from Sunday's contest between the Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars at the RCA Dome. With 1:37 remaining in the first quarter, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning passed to tight end Ben Utecht for what appeared to be an 8-yard gain and then a fumble, which was recovered by Jacksonville backup cornerback Terry Cousin. The Colts challenged the play and the officials ruled that Utecht never controlled the ball, making the pass incomplete. On the next play, Manning threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne, giving the Colts a 14-0 lead in an eventual 28-25 victory.
The Utecht play was among several the Jaguars asked the league for further clarification on in the weekly report that most teams send to the NFL office, according to an NFL source. Even though Pereira was not made available, the league did respond in writing to the questionable call.
"Utecht started falling to the ground on his own. Therefore, he has to maintain possession of the ball when he hits the ground. He did not," league spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email. "Therefore, it is an incomplete pass."
The other play came Monday night as New England beat the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 at M&T Bank Stadium to improve to 12-0. The Patriots trailed much of the second half until Tom Brady hit wide receiver Jabar Gaffney for an 8-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining in the game.
Gaffney got his feet down just before going out of bounds. However, he was changing hands with the ball as he went out and it was questionable as to whether he clearly had possession of the ball. The play was reviewed by the officials, who upheld the call on the field that it was a catch.
The play was shown on the giant scoreboard monitor during the game, drawing a strong reaction from fans and Ravens players, team spokesman Kevin Byrne said. Byrne said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was reviewing the game to decide which plays the Ravens might ask the league to clarify.
"On Gaffney's TD catch, if his hand never came off the ball and he is not clearly bobbling it, is there indisputable visual evidence of a lack of possession?" Aiello asked. "Take a look and you make the call."
Gaffney's touchdown came one play after Baltimore was called for defensive holding on fourth down, giving New England another chance to score. Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott went into meltdown mode after the touchdown, drawing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties – and when combined with a 5-yard illegal contact flag resulted in the Patriots kicking off from Baltimore's 35-yard line.
In both instances, members of the losing teams were critical of the officiating after the games. Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer went so far as to imply that Colts general manager Bill Polian paid off the officials. Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said that it appeared that all the close calls went Indianapolis' way. Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister echoed that anger.
"It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time," McAlister said. "They put the crown on top of them, they want them to win. They won."
Both Spicer and McAlister could be subject to fines from the league for their comments. Meanwhile, New England players were also upset with the officials after the game Monday night. According to the Boston Herald, linebacker Mike Vrabel yelled at the officials after everyone left the field and quarterback Tom Brady implied in his post-game press conference that many calls went Baltimore's way earlier in the game. Brady appeared to complain his receivers getting roughed up earlier in the game.
- Mike Pereira