NFL HALFWAY: All seem to agree NFL officiating is appalling
In a divided nation, NFL officials are a unifying factor, because everyone seems to disagree with them.
Quarterbacks say they take too many dirty hits. Receivers complain they are targeted. Defensive backs say they can't touch anyone without getting a flag. And coaches say their teams never catch a break.
Fans want games to move along without endless reviews and flags.
The league's head of officiating even found himself tweeting during Monday night's Bills-Seahawks game when the crew bungled a series of calls at the end of the first half on a field goal try that would prove crucial to the outcome.
''Time to bring back the replacement Refs!'' Jeremi Melendrez, owner of J's Barber Lounge in Las Cruces, New Mexico, wrote on Facebook while watching the league's latest officiating fiasco.
And this was from a Packers fan still salty over the ''Fail Mary'' in Seattle, the botched call in the end zone in 2012 that sped the return of the regular officials.
Melendrez describes himself as an avid but angry fan. He has NFL Sunday Ticket but says the proliferation of penalty flags over the last few years are making games harder to watch.
''It's no fun anymore because it's flag football,'' Melendrez said. ''I'm sure players and coaches are upset, too.''
That they are.
Two weeks ago, the Raiders overcame an NFL-record 23 penalties to beat the Buccaneers, and Oakland coach Jack Del Rio wasn't about to pin the blame solely on his players.
''Penalties are up throughout the league,'' Del Rio said. ''I think at some point it will settle down as they put viewers to sleep.''
Del Rio is just the latest to argue that one of the forces driving down TV ratings is the flurry of flags slowing the rhythm of games.
''Monday Night Football'' analyst Jon Gruden said fewer quarterbacks are throwing downfield because of a lack of protection, but on the few times they do go deep, flags are flying either for holding or pass interference.
Some defenders complain the newer rules require them to make super-human, split-second decisions in midair so as not to hit a guy too late or too hard, or too high or too low.
Others, like reigning MVP Cam Newton, are calling for more flags.
Newton took his case directly to Roger Goodell after no whistle was blown when Cardinals pass rusher Calais Campbell crashed into him below the knees two weeks ago.
Through Week 9, penalties are down slightly (16.93 per game) over the same period as last year (17.21), but up from 2014 (16.55). And the average length of games (3:07:49) is down by 92 seconds over the first half of the 2015 season, but up from `14 when it was 3:06:23.
All these penalties are down from this time last year:
-Illegal contact (41 vs. 44)
-Defensive holding (157 vs. 174)
-Offensive pass interference (68 vs. 75)
-Illegal use of hands (63 vs. 97)
-Unnecessary roughness (121 vs. 135)
-Roughing the passer (42 vs 66)
Taunting is up (24 vs. 17) and the 42 unsportsmanlike conduct fouls are the same as in 2015.
During one Monday night game this season, the Cardinals beat the Jets 28-3 in a yawner that featured 23 flags. By the third quarter, play-by-play man Sean McDonough had seen enough.
''If we're looking for reasons TV ratings are down all over the place, this doesn't help,'' McDonough said on the air that night. ''No. The way this game has been officiated is not something anybody wants to watch.''
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce grew so irate over not getting a pass interference call on Prince Amukamara after the Jaguars cornerback hooked him in the end zone last week that he threw his towel at the official.
Ejected and dejected, Kelce later said he ''felt like an idiot. It was a terrible decision. … I can't throw my flag at the ref. He can throw his all day long.''
The next day, Richard Sherman, who criticized NFL officiating last week for incorrect calls, found himself at the center of another officiating flap in Seattle, the third in five seasons.
Walt Anderson's crew flagged Sherman for being offside but not unnecessary roughness after he crashed into Dan Carpenter attempting to block his 48-yard field goal at the end of the first half – an incorrect call according Blandino.
Buffalo was assessed an injury timeout after trainers ran on the field believing Carpenter was injured, and forcing the Bills to spike the ball with 1 second left as Carpenter had to leave the field. That was followed by officials mistakenly not resetting the play clock and Buffalo being assessed a delay of game, and the half finally ending with Carpenter missing a 54-yard attempt.
''Whenever it comes to player safety, we want to look at these fouls,'' Blandino said. ''It's something that we stress with our referees when it comes to the quarterbacks and the kickers with roughing the kicker and roughing the passer, so we certainly don't want to miss calls like that.''
''Player safety was not in their mind,'' Buffalo linebacker Jerry Hughes complained. ''He was offside and dove at our kicker's leg while he was in motion. That's a dirty play.''
Non-calls. Wrong calls. Too many calls.
It's making players and coaches mad and driving fans from football.
In one of their games this year, all five of Denver's offensive linemen were whistled for critical penalties, but their quarterback didn't complain: ''It's not for me to tell guys (to) stop holding,'' Trevor Siemian said. ''Truthfully, I'd rather them hold than me get hit pretty good right there.''
Other Broncos were joining the chorus of complaints after Denver drew a dozen flags in a loss at Oakland last week, however.
''It's frustrating,'' said safety T.J. Ward, ''when you've got to go against two teams.''
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton