Was Week 3 the worst showing yet for the NFL's replacement referees? Maybe. From Baltimore to Oakland, the Keystone Kops were on the field in full force, blowing calls, giving away timeouts and letting physical football games turn into dangerous sparring matches.
It was enough to provoke Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column this week:
The legitimacy of NFL games is at stake with officials who simply aren't suited to work games of the intensity and importance of Atlanta-Denver last Monday or New England-Baltimore Sunday night.
There were just too many ref gaffs to stuff into one piece, so here are a few that offered some laughs and a little too much levity.
One bad call deserves another in Baltimore
Nobody walked away happy in this game, though it probably was a little easier for the Ravens thanks to a game-winning field goal with two seconds on the clock. (That kick also had its controversy). Keeping with the trend, this questionable call was set up by another one.
Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb looked like he had an interception with barely two minutes to play in the game. Instead, he got an illegal contact penalty. Defenders are allowed to touch receivers within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and Webb did just that. He might have been flagged for holding, but he got the illegal contact call instead.
Baltimore Beatdown, SB Nation's Ravens blog, shared their thoughts on the call:
For all of the down field holding and hand fighting going on for them to take the interception away from Lardarius Webb was straight bush league and everyone knows it. If you think otherwise then you don't know football.
The real fun happened on the next play. Coach John Harbaugh did everything but semaphores to tell the refs he wanted a timeout. Instead, he got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. At that point, even Al Michaels weighed in on the ref situation, calling the league's standoff "ridiculous." The crowd at the game needed fewer syllables to express their discontent.
Jim Harbaugh gets an extra timeout
When John Harbaugh couldn't get a timeout in Baltimore, it's too bad he couldn't call his brother Jim, who had timeouts to spare thanks to the generosity of the refs.
We pick up the action with about three and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of play, Vikings leading 24-13, and facing second-and-10 from the San Francisco 35-yard line. Toby Gerhart took a handoff from Christian Ponder and dove forward for no gain. The referees called Gerhart down, and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh called his final time out. At least, we thought it was his final time out.
After he called the time out, Harbaugh decided he wanted to challenge the play, as he thought that Toby Gerhart had fumbled the ball. And, indeed, Gerhart had fumbled . . . however, since Harbaugh had burned his last time out, he should not have had the ability to challenge the play. Not only did the referees allow Harbaugh to challenge the play with no time outs remaining, but after they ruled that Gerhart had fumbled the ball and that the Niners had recovered, they gave the Niners their time out back. I really don't know what the heck the referees were thinking there.
Timeouts and the clock in general have given the replacement refs headaches since Week 1. During kickoff weekend, the Seattle Seahawks got an extra break at the end of the fourth quarter in their loss to the Cardinals.
At least referee Ken Roan was able to admit his mistake after the game this week, which is either some consolation or just salt rubbed into the league's festering wound. The explanation from Roan is pretty stunning on its own right. Via ESPN's NFC North blog:
Roan said Harbaugh called him to the sideline and said: "Hey, this is something that I want to challenge, but I just used my last timeout. Can I challenge and get my timeout back? How does that work?'
"He asked the guys on the side and they came over and got me," Roan added. "What I told him was, 'Well you challenged it not knowing what the result of the play was going to be.' So I granted him the challenge and we went and looked at it. That was wrong. I should not have. In order to do that, he has to have two timeouts left."
No flag for helmet-to-helmet hit on Darrius Heyward-Bey
The knock from the Players Association, and a key talking point in the NFLRA's public case, is the compromise to player safety, which is kind of an issue with a major class action lawsuit against the NFL pending. They missed a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit that put Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey in the hospital Sunday night.
No flag for Mundy gave him license to strike again. SB Nation's Raiders blog Silver and Black Pride explains:
Without the lesson learned, Mundy was not done with his head hunting. On the Raiders final drive, on what proved to be one of the biggest catches of the day, tight end Brandon Myers caught a pass for 15 yards and Mundy nailed him at the end of it.
Myers left the field and was quickly diagnosed with a concussion from the hit ... There was no flag on the hit to Myers because Myers was not a defenseless receiver.
A flag on the hit to DHB, who was a defenseless receiver under league rules, would have done nothing to lessen his injury. Mundy's two hits were just two hits in a game that spiraled out of control, a common theme on fields across the NFL this week. That's where the replacement referees deserve some especially harsh criticism.
The zebras, whether we like them or not, play a vital role in controlling the tone of a game, demarcating hard-hitting football from dirty, chippy play. Through three weeks of the season, there is a very distinct trend here, games get more and more out of control. That will eventually threaten the NFL's broader appeal.
The sight of angry Shanahans on the sidelines is nothing new. In fact, there are whispers of a new Pantone color coming soon: Shanahan red. They had good reason to be a little upset on Sunday, when RGIII marched the offense inside the 20-yard-line with his team trailing by a touchdown. Then the wheels came off.
A sack put Washington at third-and-25. On that down, Fred Davis was flagged for a false start. The refs called for a 10-second runoff that would end the game, and the Bengals started to pour onto the field. Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan took up his case with the referee, arguing that the penalty happened after the clock had stopped, negating the runoff.
It was a rather animated argument, and a flag came flying as the younger Shanny walked back to the sideline, now with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct and time back on the clock.
Then the refs decided to spot the ball, and more trouble started. The two penalties together, Davis' and Shanny's, totaled 20 yards, but the refs put the ball on the Redskins' 41-yard line, thereby adding five yards to the penalties and creating some new fuzzy math for the Beltway to stew on by turning 20 yards into 25.
But the fun didn't end when the game did. Kyle Shanahan was not done.
Per a source that saw/heard it, Kyle Shanahan chased a official down underneath & said "You have No f***ing balls, you r a f***ing p***y."— ESPN 980 (@ESPNRadio980) September 23, 2012
Like Bill Belichick's harassment of the official at the end of the Patriots' loss to Ravens on Sunday night, you have to think that young Shanny will be hearing from the league.
Hats off to Kevin Ogletree
Replacement refs have provided more absurdity in three weeks than Samuel Beckett could have crammed into a running series of Godot with their incompetency thrust into the national spotlight. The zaniest of hi-jinx in Week 3 came in the Cowboys' win over the Buccaneers, when Dallas receiver Kevin Ogletree slipped on a hat the ref threw onto the field.
Refs usually throw a hat when a receiver goes out of bounds on a play and comes back in, a way of noting that the player is ineligible. Throwing into the route is usually frowned upon, and this moment could have gone from comedy to tragedy had Ogletree pulled a hamstring or suffered some other injury.
Five reversals in the Chiefs-Saints game
The referees had a rough day in the Chiefs-Saints game.
OK, a really rough day.
They had five of their own calls reversed via official review. There's some question as to whether this is a new NFL record for reversals. A couple of them were close enough to warrant a review. A couple others weren't close at all.
This first one came in the first quarter when when Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham on a third-and-4. Graham caught the ball right before the first down marker -- the first down is the 20-yard line in the photo below -- and took a step back and was tackled. He lunged forward after his knee hit the ground and the referees gave him the first down.
Upon review, however, they saw that Graham was down a full yard and a half before the first down marker.
This second one came when Brees hit Pierre Thomas, who was wide open, and took it in for a score. Or so we thought it was a score.
A review changed the call. We can't fault the referees too much for this one because it was an extremely close call, but they ruled on the field that Thomas caught the ball and then got up untouched and ran into the end zone.
The official review, however, ruled that Thomas did not catch the ball. This was a coin toss. It could've gone either way.
This third one was the most controversial of them all and it dug way into the rule book.
Dexter McCluster caught a pass from Matt Cassel on the first play of the second half. He fell to the ground as he caught and his elbow bent in the wrong direction, a scary-looking injury. Because McCluster was hurt, he gave up on the play, fell to the ground and dropped the ball.
The referees ruled that the Saints, who picked up the ball and ran it back, took possession.
The argument here is whether McCluster gave himself up, similar to the Victor Cruz play last year. If he did give himself up, the ball is dead and it's not a fumble.
The referees ruled that he did not give himself up and awarded possession to the Saints. Another screw-up in this play was that the referee blew the play dead as the Saints picked up the ball. So they ruled that the Saints recovered the fumble but did not advance it.
This is McCluster making the catch and going down untouched. He has possession of the ball.
This is McCluster losing the ball. Again, he's untouched. Did he give himself up? That's the question.
This fourth call cames on a Brees pass to Lance Moore. Moore caught the ball near the one yard line and the referees ruled on the field that it was a catch at the one yard line.
Replays showed that Moore, who clearly had at least one foot down, touched the pylon first with his second foot. The pylon is in bounds so the replays showed to me that Moore should have been awarded the touchdown because he touched the pylon first.
An official review, however, ruled that he did not make the catch.
This final one is perhaps the worst non-call of the day. Eventually they got it right but this was bad.
Chiefs running back Shaun Draughn was running for the first-down marker on a third down and he was tackled -- his knee obviously hit the ground -- and then he lunged forward for the first down. As he did that, the ball popped loose, the Saints picked it up and took it back for a touchdown, which would've essentially ended the game.
Replays showed how bad this non-call was. Draughn was obviously down before the fumble, as you can see below. Even worse is that the referees were indecisive on this play and didn't make a definitive call either way.
What other fine referee moments tickled your funny bone or raised your ire this week?