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The refs, the Seahawks, the Lions and the NFL all screwed up Monday night

The refs screwed up. The Lions screwed up. The Seahawks screwed up. The NFL screwed up. When a bad play earns a bad call of a bad rule, everybody screwed up.

The referees made a very big mistake at the end of Lions-Seahawks Monday night:

Kam Chancellor got Calvin Johnson to fumble a potential go-ahead touchdown, and rather than scoop the ball up, K.J. Wright intentionally poked it out of bounds. According to the rulebook, that's a penalty. If the refs had called the penalty Wright committed, the Lions would've gotten the ball and a first down on the half-yard line. Instead, the Seahawks got the ball, and less than two minutes later, they won the game.

Let's not argue about whether this was the right call. The NFL's vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, very quickly admitted it was the wrong call:

"Yeah, looking at the replay, it looks like a bat. It looks like he takes his right hand and bats it intentionally," Blandino said. "It's a foul. We have to make that call."

He was backed up by a variety of rules experts, from ESPN's Gerry Austin to FOX's Mike Pereira, the latter of whom held Blandino's post before him.

This was a bad situation, and everybody's fault. It was a bad call by the refs, a bad decision by the Seahawks, a bad rule by the NFL ... and yes, an awful awful awful awful awful awful awful play by the Lions.

The referees on the field screwed up because...

... I mean:

Back judge Greg Wilson is looking right at a player doing a thing that is explicitly outlawed by the NFL rulebook.

Let's not act as if what Wright did wasn't illegal. The exact wording of the rule in question, emphasis added:

A Bat or Punch is the intentional striking of the ball with hand, fist, elbow, or forearm ...

A player may not bat or punch: (a) a loose ball (in field of play) toward opponent's goal line; (b) a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone; (c) a backward pass in flight may not be batted forward by an offensive player.

Wright clearly intentionally strikes a loose ball that has touched the ground in the end zone. That's the letter of the law.

There are only two possibilities here, and neither of them are good:

1. Wilson didn't know the rule.

2. Wilson incorrectly felt that Wright's strike of the ball wasn't obvious.

The NFL is rolling with the second one: Blandino said that Wilson "didn't feel it was an overt act" and therefore didn't throw a flag.

Wilson was wrong. Wright literally admitted it was intentional:

We probably didn't need Wright to fess up. It's obvious from the play: He just kinda boops at the ball with his right hand. He doesn't make any attempt to catch the ball, and the motion wasn't a natural one. This was a clear bat or punch, and Wilson should have been able to determine that from a close distance with no obstruction.

The Seattle Seahawks screwed up because ...

... Wright shouldn't have done this. Look at how alone Wright is when he taps the ball out of bounds:

After the game, Pete Carroll explained that he felt Wright should've tried to recover the ball.

Wright has an eon or so to try and catch the ball and run out of bounds — perfectly legal. Most of the ways he could've attempted to catch the ball or dive on it or otherwise come under control of it probably would've resulted with the ball going out of bounds — and they would've been perfectly legal. Honestly, it seems like the momentum of the ball was taking it out of bounds anyway. He probably didn't need to touch the ball.

Wright thought he was making a smart play. Carroll also said that the Seahawks do practice situations where players should try to knock the ball out of bounds, like onside kicks. In the moment, Wright remembered those practices, and didn't even realize that what he was doing was illegal.

The Seahawks probably don't teach this situation because it occurs once in a blue moon, and making players cross an extra thing off their mental checklist could cause a fatal delay in situations where that ball does need to be swatted out of play ASAP. But former Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin claimed the Patriots covered this specific event in situational practices, so somebody's doing it.

Just because Wright didn't get called for a penalty here doesn't mean it was a good idea to commit one for no reason. Some fault lies on the Seahawks for not ensuring players realize this was illegal.


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The NFL screwed up because ...

... well, for starters, the NFL screwed up because its rulebook is so large and complex that we're having an intense debate on referees failing to correctly apply a rule nobody besides rules experts even knew existed until rules experts told us it was broken. I mean, my colleague Brian Floyd was in the Seattle locker room Monday night, and nobody knew something wrong had happened. Nor did ESPN's commentators while the play happened, or any of the players on the field. Detroit's coaching staff didn't appear to make any ruckus at the time. Even when the rule was explained on air, ESPN's analysts — particularly Ray Lewis — were baffled.

I consider myself pretty well-versed in NFL esoterica — I can tell you everything you need to know about fair catch kicks! — but didn't know the already-obscure rule on batted balls had a separate clause relating to batted balls in the end zone.

But in terms of things that can actually be fixed: How can a play this obvious not be reviewable?

The NFL's reasoning is that this was a "judgment call" by the referee, and "judgment calls" are not reviewable. The ref judged in the moment that Wright's tap wasn't intentional, and that was that. The logical flaw here is revealed in a direct quote by Blandino:

"The back judge was on the play," Blandino noted. "In his judgement, he didn't feel it was an overt act so he didn't throw the flag. Looking at the replays, it did look like a bat."

If the replays can make it clear that the ref's judgment call was wrong, how does it possibly make sense that judgment calls can't be reviewed on replay?

Wilson had a great view of the play. But he also only got to see it one time, and in regular speed. We have multiple cameras and slow motion. Refs use those technological advantages on a variety of plays. Why are judgment calls exempt?

There's some merit to the argument that making every single call reviewable would make football an interminable slog. Every pass interference call would get reviewed, and we'd look at each one for seven minutes, and it'd still be hard to tell which calls were right.

But we don't have to go into full-on chaos. Maybe we can make judgment calls in the end zone reviewable, or judgment calls in the last two minutes reviewable, or judgment calls on turnovers reviewable.

Or we could just make very obviously bad calls reviewable. This is how it works in college football: There's a clause allowing review of "egregious" referee errors. It doesn't come up often, but when it does — like the 2009 Big 12 Championship — everybody but the losing team is happy that an obvious mistake didn't decide a game.

Any one of those things could've helped.

And lastly, and most importantly:

The Detroit Lions screwed up because ...

Don't fumble the ball on the 1-yard line. Just don't fumble the ball on the 1-yard line. DON'T FUMBLE THE BALL ON THE 1-YARD LINE!

Man, we didn't even have to do all this talking. All you had to do was not fumble the ball on the 1-yard line.

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