NFL refuses to hold officials accountable for erroneous whistle in Bengals-Raiders game

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Whether you think the inadvertent whistle on Joe Burrow’s first-half touchdown pass to Tyler Boys affected the game or not in the Bengals’ 26-19 wild-card win over the Raiders on Saturday, there is absolutely no question that line judge Mark Steinkerchner, part of Jerome Boger’s “all-star” officiating crew, blew the play dead as the ball was in the air from Burrow to Boyd, because he thought Burrow stepped out of bounds before he threw the ball.

That fact can’t be disputed, because the evidence is clear. The league itself tweeted out that evidence.

You can clearly hear the whistle before Boyd catches the ball, and you can also see Raiders safety Trevon Moehrig hold up on the play because he thought the play was over. After discussion, Boger and Steinkerchner discussed it, and Boger called it a touchdown despite the fact that it wasn’t the moment the whistle was blown.

Here’s the rule as it currently stands — Rule 7, Section 2, Article (o) of the NFL Rulebook:

When an official sounds the whistle erroneously while the ball is still in play, the ball becomes dead immediately.

  1. If the ball is in player possession, the team in possession may elect to put the ball in play where it has been declared dead or to replay the down.

  2. If the ball is a loose ball resulting from a fumble, backward pass, or illegal forward pass, the team last in possession may elect to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to replay the down.

  3. If the ball is a loose ball resulting from a legal forward pass, a free kick, a fair-catch kick, or a scrimmage kick, the ball is returned to the previous spot, and the down is replayed.

  4. If there is a foul by either team during any of the above, and the team in possession at the time of the erroneous whistle elects not to replay the down, penalty enforcement is the same as for fouls during a run, forward pass, kick, fumble, and backward pass. If the team in possession elects to replay the down, all penalties will be disregarded, except for personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, which will be administered prior to the replaying of the down. If the down is replayed, the game clock will be reset to the time remaining when the snap occurred, and the clock will start on the snap.

So. After the game, NFL Vice President of Officiating Walt Anderson met with pool reporter Paul Denher. And that’s when things got really weird. This is from the NFL’s officiating social media account.

For Anderson to say that the whistle blew after the ball was caught is absolutely wrong, and while we’re taught in journalism to avoid using the word “lie” unless we’re sure of somebody’s intent, there are two options here: Either Anderson didn’t care enough about his job to check and see when the whistle was blown, or he’s lying to protect this crew.

Either way, it’s a terrible look for a league that has had far too many officiating blunders. And if this is how bad calls are handled, it’s no wonder officials aren’t performing at an optimal standard.