The NFL’s first regular-season weekend with replacement officials got under way Sunday, but before you get totally down on the replacements, I will tell you that their performance in the early games was actually pretty good. Yes, there were a few issues, but such issues come up no matter who is officiating.
But the afternoon wasn’t as smooth, and that creates a problem. You’re always influenced by what you see last and what we saw by the replacements in two of the late games in particular — San Francisco at Green Bay and Seattle at Arizona — wasn’t good.
But since I’m such a positive guy, in breaking down the good, the bad and the ugly of Week 1, I’m going to start with the good.
An examination of the numbers shows how smoothly the early games ran. The average number of accepted penalties called during Sunday’s first 10 games was 11.7, compared to 12.9 during the three afternoon games. The average number of accepted penalties for the 2011 season was 12.5 — so pretty close. Even more to the point: During Week 1 of last season, the average of accepted penalties was 13.6.
Here are my biggest takeaways of Week 1:
The good: Washington at New Orleans. The Saints had the ball, first down and 10 at the New Orleans 45-yard line with 5:10 left in the second quarter. Washington led 20-7. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees completed a 4-yard pass to Jimmy Graham and he was tackled by DeJon Gomes. London Fletcher stripped the ball from Graham and the Redskins recovered, but the referees ruled that Graham’s forward progress had been stopped.
My take: Absolutely the correct call by the officials. The ball was ripped out of Graham’s hands after he was driven backwards. This was classic forward progress before a fumble. The ruling of forward progress is not reviewable with regards to a fumble. The only time that you can review forward progress is for the spot in relation to a first down or a scoring play.
The bad: San Francisco at Green Bay. The 49ers had the ball, fourth and six at their own 14-yard line with 11:35 to play in the fourth quarter. The 49ers led 23-7. San Francisco punter Andy Lee punted the ball 61 yards to Randall Cobb, who returned the ball 75 yards for a touchdown. There was a penalty flag thrown on the play for an apparent block in the back on Green Bay that was subsequently picked up. Because it was a scoring play there was an automatic booth review. After the review, it was ruled Cobb did not stop out of bounds and the Packers were awarded a touchdown.
My take: It seems pretty apparent to me that the officials threw the flag on Green Bay’s Terrell Manning for blocking Anthony Dixon in the back. Obviously another official came in and must have given input that he thought the block was from the side. With that, the calling official must have decided to pick up his flag. I think that was the wrong decision. Manning was coming from behind and replays showed contact was on the left side of the back. I feel they should not have picked up the flag and that the foul should have been enforced with the touchdown being taken off the board. And the missed call actually got the Packers back into the game.
The ugly: Seattle at Arizona. Seahawks’ ball, first and goal at the Arizona 6-yard line with 38 seconds remaining in the game. Arizona led 20-16. Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch carried the ball for two yards and was tackled by O’Brien Schofield. Seattle called a timeout with 30 seconds remaining.
My take: The problem was Seattle didn’t have any timeouts left. This is where the league could have found itself in real jeopardy. Two plays prior, Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin was injured on a pass that was ruled incomplete. Seahawks’ personnel came out to attend to Baldwin, making this an injury timeout. Inside of two minutes, an injury timeout converts to a charged timeout. And it was duly noted by the statistician in the press box. However, it was not duly noted by the officials or the league’s observer. After a lengthy discussion following Lynch’s run up the middle, the officials and the league observer concluded that a timeout shouldn’t have been charged on the Baldwin injury because the clock stopped on the incompletion. Well, that’s not the rule. The timeout was still to be charged, but since the clock was not running, no 10-second runoff would apply. The missed enforcement of the rules is what happens when you have officials and observers that are not up to speed on NFL rules. The league is lucky that Seattle didn’t win this game on a last-second touchdown.
Before we end it, let’s take a look at one new rule that came into play Sunday.
The game: Jacksonville at Minnesota
The situation: The Vikings had the ball, second and four from the Jaguars’ 37-yard line with four seconds left in the game. Jacksonville led 23-20.
The play: Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh kicked a 55-yard field goal as time ran out to tie the game and force the first overtime game under the new rule this season.
My take: The new rule is similar to the overtime rule used in the playoffs, but not exactly the same. The similarities are that each team gets an opportunity for a possession, unless the first possession results in a touchdown or the defense forces a safety. So after Minnesota kicked a field goal on the first possession, Jacksonville got the ball with a chance to tie with a field goal or win with a touchdown. But the Jaguars failed to even gain a first down and, after a Blaine Gabbert pass fell incomplete on fourth and 2, the game was over. The difference between the regular season overtime rule and the playoff rule is that in the regular season overtime is at most a 15-minute period. If the score ends up tied after that one period, the game ends in a tie. In the playoffs, you continue to play until there is a winner.