Two vastly different games took place during Saturday’s NFL divisional playoff games. You had the very physical game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and the Ravens and the two finesse teams in Atlanta with the Falcons and the Packers.
Officials went into the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game knowing it was going to be a tough game to call and I’m sure they read Ray Anderson’s letter to all of the playoff teams. Anderson is the NFL’s executive director of football operations and the letter warned all teams to cut out the trash talk and to play the game cleanly.
In my mind, those comments were directed mainly at the four teams in the AFC divisional games — the Ravens, Steelers, Jets and Patriots.
The first quarter of the Ravens-Steelers contest featured two challenges and six penalties. Pittsburgh also got away with two late hits that weren’t called. Among other things, the game turned on a key holding call in the fourth quarter.
So we’ll start with that one in discussing the most interesting calls of Saturday’s divisional games:
1. Baltimore at Pittsburgh
THE SITUATION: Pittsburgh had the ball, fourth-and-12 from its 10-yard line with 6:09 left in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh led, 24-21.
THE PLAY: Jeremy Kapinos punted 45 yards to the Baltimore 45. The Ravens’ Lardarius Webb received the kick and returned the ball for a touchdown, but a holding call on Marcus Smith brought the ball back to the Pittsburgh 29. The Ravens would eventually have to settle for a field goal.
MY TAKE: This was a huge call that negated a touchdown. It was impossible to tell whether the call was correct or incorrect, because the only television replays that were shown were looking through the back of the defender. The official making the call had a clear look from the opposite side. It may well be that Smith had a hold of the jersey which you couldn’t see on the replay.
2. Baltimore at Pittsburgh
THE SITUATION: Pittsburgh had the ball, second-and-10 from its 10-yard line with 1:07 left in the first quarter. The score was tied at 7.
THE PLAY: Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was back to pass, pumped faked and was hit by the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs while he was reloading to pass. The ball rolled to the ground and while most players stood there thinking it was an incomplete pass, Baltimore’s Cory Redding picked it up and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. Pittsburgh challenged the ruling, but the play was confirmed after replay.
MY TAKE: Wow! This basically ended a first quarter that included two challenges, six penalties and two more unnecessary roughness fouls that should have been called against the Steelers.
This crew had more action in one quarter than most crews have in an entire game. Referee Jeff Triplette made a terrific call by ruling fumble when the ball squirted forward. Most everyone thought it was an incomplete pass.
Replay showed that Suggs hit him from behind, which propelled the ball forward. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin had to challenge, but unfortunately was left without challenges for the rest of the game when the play was confirmed.
It might be wise for the NFL to consider a rule applicable to the playoffs only, one that allows a coach an extra challenge for each one he wins. He would only be out of challenges when he loses two.
You’d hate to see a playoff game turn on an officiating mistake that could have been corrected. Length of game shouldn’t be an issue in the playoffs.
3. Green Bay at Atlanta
THE SITUATION: Atlanta had the ball, third-and-8 from its 29-yard line with 7:41 left in the third quarter. Green Bay led, 35-14.
THE PLAY: Quarterback Matt Ryan hit Michael Turner on the sideline for a 24-yard completion. Green Bay challenged the pass completion ruling and the play was overturned.
MY TAKE: This was a correct reversal. Turner was not going to the ground, but the ball was knocked out just after his second foot hit the ground. Even though the ball never hit the ground, Turner did not have control when he first touched the ground, which also makes the pass incomplete.
4. Baltimore at Pittsburgh
THE SITUATION: The game’s opening kickoff, Pittsburgh kicking to Baltimore.
THE PLAY: Baltimore’s Lardarius Webb took the kick and returned the ball to the Ravens’ 49-yard line. He was initially brought down by Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham at the 35-yard line but it was ruled on the field that Webb did not touch the ground. Pittsburgh challenged and the play was reversed.
MY TAKE: As we always said as officials, expect the unexpected on the opening kickoff. It’s the same for coaches, especially regarding instant replay.
Webb was not ruled down, but a replay showed that the right elbow barely touched the ground. This was a good lesson for everybody to be ready on every play.