Championship round officiating analysis

BY foxsports • January 23, 2011

With temperatures well below freezing, it was mighty cold Sunday for both conference championship games, but the Super Bowl is going to be one hot matchup two weeks from now in Dallas.

The Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on FOX.
Both the Packers and Steelers got out to big early leads, but had to withstand fourth-quarter rallies by Chicago and the New York Jets.

While the officiating crew calling this year's Super Bowl will start preparing on Monday, let's take a look back to some of the key calls during Championship Sunday.

1. Green Bay at Chicago

THE SITUATION: Chicago had the ball, first-and-10 from its 33 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter. The Bears trailed 14-0.

THE PLAY: Chicago running back Matt Forte carried the ball 11 yards, but that wasn't what was significant about this play; it was the timing of it. Third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie entered the game, thus triggering a little-known NFL rule.

MY TAKE: Hanie wasn't even on the 45-man active roster when this game started. The NFL has an obscure rule that allows a team to declare one of its inactive players as an emergency third quarterback. He is actually called the 46th player.

When the Bears activated Hanie with 57 seconds left in the third quarter, they had to deactivate both Jay Cutler and Todd Collins, and neither could return to the game. The interesting part of this is that if the Bears would have waited to do this until the first play of the fourth quarter, both Cutler and Collins would have remained active and could have returned to the game.

As it turns out, they didn't need either Cutler or Collins, as Hanie played better than either of them.

2. New York Jets at Pittsburgh

THE SITUATION: The Jets had the ball, third-and-17 from their 26 with 1:23 left in the second quarter. The Jets trailed 17-0.

THE PLAY: Quarterback Mark Sanchez was hit by Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor while attempting to pass the ball. The ball was fumbled and the Steelers' William Gay picked it up and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown. After a booth review, the replay official determined Sanchez's arm was not going forward and the call on the field was confirmed.

MY TAKE: It was a good call by referee Ed Hochuli and a good confirmation in replay.

Sanchez's hand was moving upward as he was cocking his arm to throw the pass. The contact that knocked the ball loose came before the hand started forward. It's all about the hand. Even though the elbow starts forward as part of the cocking motion, it's only a pass if the hand is moving forward.

Nine out of 10 of these types of plays are fumbles. Referees are wise to rule these fumbles, because the majority of the time they are. As it turned out, this play would prove to be the difference in the game.

3. Green Bay at Chicago

THE SITUATION: Back-to-back plays with just more than 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Bears had just scored a touchdown on their previous possession to cut Green Bay's lead to 14-7.

THE PLAYS: On the first play, the Packers had the ball second-and-9 from their 25. Quarterback Aaron Rogers threw an incomplete pass, but a roughing-the-passer penalty was called on Julius Peppers. On the next play, first-and-10 from the Green Bay 39, Rogers was attempting to hit Donald Driver on a pass and Chicago's Tim Jennings was called for interference.

MY TAKE: I felt these two plays were huge game changers for the Bears in terms of field position and momentum.

Less than a minute before this sequence, the Bears had scored a touchdown and had clearly taken away the momentum from the Packers. Being in Chicago, the crowd loudly voiced its disapproval on both calls, but after looking at the replays, the officials clearly made the right calls. Peppers lowered his head and hit Rogers helmet-to-helmet. On the pass interference, Jennings grabbed Driver's arm before the ball got there.

Sometimes officials don't get enough credit for making big calls in a big game against the home team.

4. Green Bay at Chicago

THE SITUATION: Chicago had the ball, first-and-10 from its 41 with 32 seconds left in the second quarter. The Bears trailed 14-0.

THE PLAY: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler attempted a pass to Johnny Knox that was intercepted by Sam Shields at the Bears’ 1. It was ruled an interception on the field, and after a booth review, the call on the field stood.

MY TAKE: I'm surprised that Terry McAulay did not reverse this. I felt the ball came loose after touching the ground.

This proves that replay is still one person's judgment against another. While I think it should have been reversed, I can't fault McAulay for feeling there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call that was made on the field. The issue of whether Shields was down by contact at the 1-yard line was really irrelevant, because the Packers were going to take a knee anyway. I'm sure they spent the whole 60 seconds, which is the time they're allowed to review the play, deciding whether it was an interception.

5. New York Jets at Pittsburgh

THE SITUATION: Pittsburgh had the ball, fourth-and-2 from its 36 with 10:37 left in the third quarter. The Steelers led 24-10.

THE PLAY: The Steelers' Jeremy Kapinos was attempting to punt, but the Jets' Jamaal Westerman was called for a roughing-the-kicker penalty, giving the Steelers a first down.

MY TAKE: Nothing on video suggests that Westerman touched the ball in his attempt to block the kick. Referee Ed Hochuli was adamant with his announcement that the ball was not touched. But what if it was?

Not many people realize that this play is reviewable under the category of touching of a kick, and the Jets could have challenged the penalty. If the Jets felt the ball was touched and the video showed indisputable visual evidence to confirm that, the penalty would been erased. Touching of a kick is always reviewable.


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