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NFL makes unprecedented move to fire ref who missed false start in Browns-Chargers game

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The Cleveland Browns (sort of) got a referee fired.

NFL: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in the Super Bowl era, the NFL has fired a referee in the middle of the season. Hugo Cruz, a down judge, was fired for performance-related reasons, according to Football Zebras.

This includes, but is not limited to, the egregious missed false start against Russell Okung during the Week 6 game between the Chargers and the Browns — a play that resulted in a touchdown for the Chargers in a 38-14 blowout win.

Most referees just get suspended during the season when the league reaches their breaking point so it’s a bit surprising Cruz got the ax during the season. As Football Zebras noted, Cruz’s miss of Okung’s false start wouldn’t get him fired by itself.

Even though the miscall was very significant, no call on its own would prompt a firing. Basic human resources training would tell you that there is a document trail of transgressions that will make the case. It is, apparently, the last straw for senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron. Cruz was off last week, so the Week 6 Chargers-Browns game was his last.

According NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the NFL Referees Association is going to file a grievance on behalf of Cruz.

Scott Green, the executive director of the NFL Referees Association, said the firing of Cruz was “reckless” and follows the NFL’s history with knee-jerk decisions.

We’ve seen a lot of turnover at the referee position this year, though not due to firing. Ed Hochuli, Jeff Triplette, Gene Steratore, and Terry McAulay all retired before the start of the 2018 season.

McAulay was puzzled by Cruz’s firing:

NFL officials have received a lot of negative attention this season, particularly when it comes to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have been the victims of a few bad calls, including a strip sack overturned against the Raiders, a non-call on a blow to Baker Mayfield’s head, and Myles Garrett receiving a bogus roughing the passer penalty.

That last area is where the referees have caught the most flak this season. There’s been a lot of confusion over the roughing passer penalties this season. Players are trying to avoid getting hit with the “bodyweight rule” — something that Miami Dolphins defensive end William Hayes said caused him to tear his ACL. It changed the course of the Week 2 tie between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings, one of the times it has caused Clay Matthews a lot of stress this season.

Hopefully, referees tighten up throughout the rest of the season for their own sake and for the watchability of these games. It’s always tough seeing somebody lose their job, but this might be the wake-up call that the referees around the league need to get their act together.