The thrill of victory is a beautiful thing, but the agony of defeat is often what NFL athletes remember most. That’s even more true when said defeat came because of a bad call by referees.
No one wants to lose because of something that was out of their control, but that can happen when an official makes the wrong call late in a close game. On several occasions during Wild Card Weekend, we saw some pretty egregious officiating gaffes by the refs, some coming even when they had the help of replay review.
Here is a look at the worst calls of the six-game Wild Card Round.
No pass interference against Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis
The Washington Football Team played better than anybody thought they would against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so much better that they only lost by one possession.
You know what is handy as a possession? A touchdown. Down by eight, the margin they would lose by, in the second quarter the Football Team was facing a 3rd-and-9 and had a play that should have merited a pass interference on Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis.
This is classic pass interference. If you get there before the ball does, you’re getting called for it most of the time... unless you are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday night. Unfortunately for them no call came, they had to punt, and the Bucs went and kicked a field goal.
Cole Kmet ‘Taunting’ Penalty vs. Saints
This may have been the worst ‘taunting’ call ever seen in a playoff game. Early in the second quarter of Bears - Saints, tight end Cole Kmet caught a one-yard pass at the sideline and was flagged for taunting, which turned what should have been 3rd-and-5 at the New Orleans 9-yard line to 3rd-and-20 at the 24-yard line.
The worst taunting call in NFL playoff history? pic.twitter.com/D3IKLRQXaE— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 10, 2021
The Bears eventually settled for a field goal and would go into halftime trailing 7-3 when they had a great chance to tie the game if not for the penalty. Based on the video, Kmet never did anything worthy of a 15-yard penalty, and it proved costly in what was a low-scoring game much of the way.
OPI confusion in Ravens vs. Titans
Though the Ravens prevailed with a 20-13 win over the Titans, there were some questionable calls regarding offensive pass interference that could have been costly.
The first was a non-call that happened in the first quarter when A.J. Brown appeared to push off a defender as he caught a touchdown, but no flag was thrown.
Then in the fourth quarter with the Ravens up 17-13 facing a 4th-and-2 in the red zone with 4:28 remaining, Lamar Jackson completed a three-yard pass to running back J.K. Dobbins, but receiver Willie Snead was flagged for OPI.
Is this offensive pass interference? pic.twitter.com/bBx9pwZoG2— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) January 10, 2021
It was questionable at best, and it looks even worse after Brown got away with worse on his TD grab. But the Ravens prevailed to win their first playoff game with Jackson under center and now advance to the Divisional Round.
Missed fumble late in Bills vs. Colts
Ironically, the worst call of Wild Card weekend happened late in the first game. The Bills won their first playoff game in 25 years Saturday with their 27-24 win over the Colts. However, the game could have ended in heartbreaking fashion thanks to a botched call on the Colts’ final drive.
On 4th-and-10 in the final minute, wide receiver Zach Pascal caught a 17-yard pass and fell at the Bills’ 46-yard line. Pascal got up and fumbled, which was recovered by the Bills for what would have been a game-clincher.
However, officials on the field ruled that Pascal was down by contact after he initially fell down, though replay made it clear that was not the case as it was clearly a fumble. But even after officials reviewed the play, the call on the field stood, giving the Colts a chance to steal the win after the game should have been over.
Thankfully, the Bills defense would eventually bat down a 4th-down Hail Mary as time expired to preserve the win and keep the game from being decided by one of the worst calls of the season.
Hopefully, we don’t see any calls as bad as this for the rest of the playoffs.