NFL fires referee that missed key false start in Chargers-Browns game

For the first time in the Super Bowl era, the NFL has fired a referee in the middle of a season.

Down judge Hugo Cruz was fired for not “maintaining a very high level of performance over a sustained period,” according to Football Zebras. One of Cruz’s more notable missed calls came in a Week 6 Chargers-Browns game, when Cruz failed to call a false start on Los Angeles’ Russell Okung.

The Browns relaxed in anticipation of a flag, and Philip Rivers found Tyrell Williams for a 29-yard touchdown. That put the Chargers up 21-3, and Los Angeles went on to win 38-14.

Cruz was in his fourth year as an official and second as a down judge. Per Football Zebras, he officiated the following games this season:

Week 1: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Week 2: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
Week 3: San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs
Week 5: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints
Week 6: Los Angeles Chargers at Cleveland Browns

The home team won the first four games Cruz officiated.

Tyrell Williams scored on this play in part because of an uncalled penalty. (Getty)
Tyrell Williams scored on this play in part because of an uncalled penalty. (Getty)

The NFL has fired two other referees in the past decade, one for undisclosed off-field issues and another for poor performance. The league also attempted to fire eight officials in 2003, but the referees’ union got most of them rehired or reassigned.

The firing of Cruz will no doubt send a message to the rest of the league’s referees, many of whom have come under criticism for missing or botching calls. Will this inspire better referee work or more conservative officiating?

Note: A previous version of this article referred to the Chargers as being from San Diego. We regret the error, but not that much, because you’ve made the same error yourself, and the Chargers really ought to be in San Diego anyway.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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