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Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores ran across the field after his team lost, went to the nearest official and told him with an expletive what he thought of a pass-interference reversal that cost his team a win. And you thought that would be the worst moment for NFL referees on Sunday.
If there’s one truth about the NFL, it’s that the officials can always lower the bar. On Sunday they deserved every word Flores said to them, and whatever Bill Belichick said to them too.
Sunday’s New England Patriots loss turned into a fiasco. Fans often believe officials call games to favor the Patriots, but the officials showed Sunday that their mistakes have no bias.
The Patriots had two touchdowns wiped off the board on botched calls that weren’t particularly close. On the first, Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore likely would have scored after scooping up a Travis Kelce fumble, but the whistle blew and Kelce was ruled down. New England used its last challenge on the bad call — keep that in mind — and was given the ball, but there was no Gilmore return because the play was dead.
The officials blew another call on the following possession and the Patriots couldn’t challenge. N’Keal Harry seemed to score a touchdown, but was ruled out of bounds before he lunged for the end zone along the sideline. Replays showed he clearly stayed in bounds, but without any more challenges, there wasn’t much the Patriots could do. They couldn’t score in the goal-to-go series that followed and kicked a field goal.
That was an enormous difference at the end of the game when New England needed a touchdown in the final minutes. A fourth-down pass to the end zone was broken up and the Chiefs had a big win.
It was a huge loss for the Patriots. They now have almost no chance to get the No. 1 seed in the AFC and could end up losing the No. 2 seed to the Chiefs. Had the officiating been better, they might not have lost.
“It’s the National Football League, gotta continue to compete,” Belichick said in his postgame news conference. “Control what you can control.”
Not all the Patriots were as tight-lipped about the situation.
“It sucks,” safety Duron Harmon told the Boston Herald, “because at the end of the day, we felt like those were the plays that were going to help us change the momentum of the game and eventually put us in a spot to win the football game. It was taken away from us.
“I know the refs, they have a hard job. I’m not going sit here and say their job is easy. But at the end of the day, we all have a job, and we all get paid money to do a job and do it well.”
The Saints had issues with officials too, wanting a holding on a fake punt pass, but there is no pass interference on fake punts and officials decided against calling holding, so for one week we don’t have to cater to New Orleans’ issues with the referees.
The next time the Dolphins and Patriots play, Flores and Belichick can exchange opinions on NFL officiating. Everyone said the new rule in which pass interference could be challenged would be a disaster, and perhaps the worst example of it happened on Sunday.
Dolphins cornerback Nik Needham was in coverage and a pass was incomplete to Jets receiver Vyncint Smith. The contact didn’t seem egregious. The Jets were going to face fourth-and-18 at the Miami 46, out of field-goal range. It was in the last two minutes, and the NFL’s officiating office in New York wanted to look at it.
Flores was already hot before the ruling came back. It was switched to a pass interference and the Jets had first-and-10 at Miami’s 38. They ended up with a game-winning field goal a few plays later.
In a pool report, NFL senior vice president Al Riveron said there was a “clear and obvious” instance of Needham grabbing Smith and turning him. Perhaps, but it wasn’t called that way earlier in the season. There were plenty of challenges where there appeared to be interference, but calls weren’t changed. It seemed the standard to reverse an interference decision was very high. It also seems fair to say that in early November, that call on Needham wouldn’t have been changed.
“Honestly, it’s just trash,” Needham said about the call, according to the Palm Beach Post.
“I’m not going to answer any questions about the officiating,” Flores said.
According to the Palm Beach Post, CBS said during the broadcast that only 22 percent of pass interference reviews had been reversed. Over the past two weeks, there have been six challenges and three calls overturned.
“It is not being applied any differently than it was at the beginning of the year,” Riveron said in that pool report.
NFL officiating is undeniably difficult. The game moves incredibly fast. We saw during the unforgettable replacement refs era in 2012 how bad officiating can really be. But week after week, officiating is a big part of the story in the NFL.
Officials have become so bogged down with emphasizing various rules that there seem to be flags on every other play. Games have no flow. When calls get missed that cost teams like the Patriots a win, they’ll get a meaningless apology during the week and that’s that. The pass interference rule and the inconsistency in enforcing it is another problem for the officials.
And there are a million other issues. For example, late in the Patriots-Chiefs game there was interference on Pats receiver Phillip Dorsett that was worse than Needham’s foul for the Dolphins ... but nothing was called, and the Patriots didn’t have a challenge remaining because they had to use it on the botched fumble call.
The NFL needs to review all of its procedures. The pass interference review rule needs more clarity. Full-time officials wouldn’t necessarily fix the main problem, which is that the game is too fast to catch everything and that high-definition replays shine a harsh light on all the mistakes that are made, but the NFL has to consider everything. A good first step would be to tell the officials that nobody is tuning in to watch them throw penalty flags on ticky-tack calls. Everyone watching would be in favor of fewer penalties being called.
The league might never completely fix the officiating. Again, the job is hard. But the NFL can’t enjoy that week after week, officiating mistakes are dominating the headlines.
Here’s a look at the coaches, players, executives or anyone else feeling the heat on Monday, after Week 14 of the NFL season.
HOT: What’s up with Russell Wilson lately?
The MVP race, until further notice, is over. Lamar Jackson is your 2019 NFL MVP. Wilson will have to wait until next season.
Since a five-touchdown game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9, Wilson has been kind of ordinary for the Seattle Seahawks. His last four games: 917 yards, 63.5 completion percentage, four touchdowns, four interceptions, 82.7 passer rating. Wilson’s mini-slump hasn’t really mattered because the Seahawks were winning, before Sunday night anyway.
The Rams dominated Seattle 28-12, and the Seahawks’ only touchdown came from the defense. Seattle’s offense moved the ball reasonably well but didn’t make any big plays. Tyler Lockett has been a non-factor since a shin injury that put him in the hospital. Rookie DK Metcalf was mostly taken out of Sunday’s game by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Losing running back Rashaad Penny to an ACL injury early in the game was a setback too.
The Seahawks will still be NFC West champions if they win out, including a home game against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17. Nobody seemed panicked by the Seahawks’ flat performance in Los Angeles. Though the offensive dip should be concerning.
“We’re going to get better, we’re going to look at the film and study, we’re going to practice,” Wilson said. “Everything we want to do is still ahead of us. There’s no fear in us at all.”
HOTTER: Baker Mayfield finally goes too far
Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns quarterback, says what’s on his mind. He’s one of the few players in the NFL who hasn’t had that beaten out of him yet.
There are still lines you probably shouldn’t cross, and Mayfield might have found one Sunday.
When talking about a report that Odell Beckham Jr. has been playing despite a sports hernia injury, Mayfield’s lack of a filter led to him ripping the Browns’ medical staff.
“I’d say that it wasn’t handled right. He’s not able to run as well as he should be able to, as well he knows — and that’s frustrating for him,” Mayfield said. “You can sense that’s some of his frustration, where that comes from.
“It wasn’t handled the right way in our training room. It is what it is.”
That led to Mayfield apologizing, still in a semi-defiant tone:
The NFL is different than most sports. Individuality, at least off the field, is not celebrated by most teams. It makes the league much less fun and entertaining, but good luck changing that mindset.
And it’s fine if things are going well and a team is winning. But Mayfield hasn’t had a good season and the Browns are a big disappointment. Already Mayfield has been criticized for various comments this year, like talking negatively about then-teammate Duke Johnson’s trade request, and that’s minor compared to criticizing the team’s medical staff over the handling of an injury.
Mayfield is unlikely to change who he is, though the NFL has squeezed the personality out of many players before. As long as Mayfield speaks his mind, the results better be good. Or he’ll keep hearing about it.
HOTTEST: The NFL won’t consider playoff reseeding, but why not?
The NFC East is a tire fire at this point, and it seems the best hope is for an 8-8 champ. A 7-9 champ is still on the table.
And then we have the NFC West, which seems likely to have a 13-3 or 12-4 team finish in second place. That team will go on the road to play the champion of the terrible East, likely the Dallas Cowboys.
Is that fair? Of course not, it’s ridiculous. And there’s an easy fix: reseed the playoffs. Let the eight division champs into the postseason but don’t let a 7-9 team get a home game. Easy. But according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, within the NFL that idea "has gotten zero steam. It's never been a consideration."
There’s not one good reason to ignore that fairly minor improvement other than resisting change. But that’s how the NFL is. A good idea can be presented, but it needs a major controversy to finally wake up to the idea of making a change. It makes no sense.
SCORCHING: Maybe it’s time for Tom Coughlin to go in Jacksonville
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone seems likely to be fired after the season. The Jaguars have been stumbling for weeks and a 45-10 home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers will be hard to survive.
It’s also time to look at executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin.
Since the Jaguars went to the AFC championship game and blew a big lead against the Patriots two seasons ago, what has gone right? The Blake Bortles fiasco, giving him an extension and hoping that he’d improve, was awful. Alienating Jalen Ramsey and trading him, when he was Jacksonville’s best player, doesn’t look great. Nick Foles is looking like an enormous free-agent bust, and since the Jaguars overpaid him when there were no other obvious suitors around the NFL, they can’t realistically get out of his deal after this season. Other moves like signing free-agent guard Andrew Norwell to a huge contract and drafting Leonard Fournette fourth overall haven’t worked out.
Coughlin is the head of the food chain in Jacksonville. While Marrone hasn’t done very well this season — and still deserves blame for going into a shell in that AFC title game loss to the Patriots — it’s not like he has a perfect roster. Coughlin is in charge in Jacksonville, and perhaps team owner Shad Khan needs to make a clean sweep after the season.
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