Roger Goodell isn’t stupid.
He has to realize that, within 10 seconds of an NFL play being complete, the least informed people of the millions watching are the officials governing the game.
Think about it. Within 10 seconds, everybody in the stadium has had a chance to watch a replay on their smartphone, if not the big screen. Coaches and players on the sidelines have either seen it replayed on the jumbotron or -- if no replay was shown -- coaches on the sidelines have been informed by those upstairs watching the telecast what happened.
The millions of viewers at home have watched it and had a chance to rewind, pause and frame-by-frame it.
So, how much longer does the NFL allow its officials to wander around like seven blind mice after a complex play while everyone watches to see whether they get it right or flap it up?
It’s time for technology to intercede and the integrity of the game on the field to be restored. It’s time to expand replay challenges and it’s past time to put an overseer at every game with the eyes, reflexes and autonomy necessary to stop the game with the press of a button and speak directly to the head ref while the poop is still en route to the fan instead of after said poop has hit it.
Sunday in Houston, officials missed a blatant case of fair-catch interference by the Texans with 6:54 remaining in a game tied 31-31.
Julian Edelman, back deep to receive a punt, signaled fair catch at the Patriots 33 but was bumped as the Shane Lechler punt descended and couldn’t make the catch. Aside from the loss of 15 yards for the penalty that wasn’t called, the incident also shined a light on a replay problem. If the ball had hit Edelman and was recovered by Houston, the play would have been reviewed as it was a turnover. But even if the replay official saw the fair catch interference, he would have still been compelled to give the ball to the Texans since penalties are not reviewable.
On his conference call Tuesday, Bill Belichick pointed out the flawed logic of keeping replay challenges to a narrow scope.
“Plays like that just beg the whole question of what’s reviewable and what isn’t reviewable,” he pointed out. “We only have two challenges and you get potentially a play like that that could be a significant play. Now, had they called they called a touch and then a recovery, then it would have been reviewed and the review would have been part of the touching, not part of the interference. There’s a lot of gray area there. There’s some sticky things as to what’s (okay). But it certainly brings up a lot of other questions. Not only whether it was or wasn’t, but then how to handle it.”
Going forward, Belichick thinks coaches need the latitude to challenge a wider variety of questionable plays.
“When you have two challenges, I don’t see anything wrong with the concept of, ‘You can challenge any two plays you want,’ ” he explained. “I understand that judgment calls are judgment calls. But to say that an important play can’t be reviewed, I don’t think that’s really in the spirit of, ‘Let’s try to get everything right and make sure that the most important plays are officiated properly.’ "
Belichick obviously has had this opinion marinating a while because he was just getting warmed up.
“If you get a situation where they call a guy for being offside and you don’t think he was offside and you’re willing to use one of your challenges on that to let them go back and take a look at it . . . I understand if the evidence isn’t conclusive that the call stands and if it is, they’d overturn,” he added. “Or if it’s offensive holding, you think one of the offensive linemen tackles your guy, he’s rushing the quarterback and the ball hasn’t been thrown and they go back and look at it, and if it was that egregious of a violation, that they would make the call. If it wasn’t, then they wouldn’t. We have to live with that anyway. But now it’s only on certain plays and certain situations.”
There’s a lot to be said for this because -- as we’ve seen with both pass interference and roughing-the-passer/defenseless receiver calls -- the penalties are so significant, they can be as game-changing as turnovers and (in the case of pass interference) lead directly to touchdowns.
“It’s kind of confusing for me as to which plays are and which plays aren’t challengeable,” said Belichick. “I’m sure it’s confusing for the fans, to know what all they are. There are multiple pages explaining what you can and can’t challenge. Then you have the officials come over to you, oftentimes during a controversial type of play and will say, ‘Well, you can challenge this.' Or, ‘You can’t challenge this.’ Just to remind you, which is helpful, but I’m just saying in the whole idea of simplifying the game and trying to get the important plays right, I wouldn’t have any problem if any play was open to a challenge, understanding if it’s not conclusive, then it’s not conclusive and the ruling on the field would stand. But that’s the way it is anyway. I think it would make it a lot simpler in my mind.”
Expanded use of technology has been met in the past with protests that the “human element” of officiating would be lost. Given the errors humans can make when trying to process in real time actions by giant humans moving at high rates of speed, the human element may not be missed.
As for those who worry about adding time to the game with additional replay challenges, that’s a red herring argument. Getting the game right matters more than getting it over.
Roger Goodell isn’t stupid.