The lockout has ended, but not before there were some miserable calls made this season. We're counting down the worst of 2012—and hoping that the bad flags stop here.
Dan Israeli 1 / 11
Fans were elated as referee Gene Steratore announced at last night's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens that the lockout finally ended and real referees had returned."Gentleman, its good to be be back," he said.We couldn't agree more.What was more or less a ho-hum story heading into the season had turned into an all-out mutiny in just three short weeks. Players and fans alike were fed up with what felt like a never-ending string of bad calls, missed calls and overall poor game management.From the ref that officiated a New Orleans game being outed as a Saints fan on Facebook, to another replacement that asked Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to help out his fantasy team, the scab saga never fell short on comical anecdotes. (The capper: The Lingerie Football League announced this week that it fired some current NFL replacement ref crews due to “incompetence.”)All jokes aside (and there have been many), it was the game-swinging calls on the field that drew the most ire from legions of NFL fans. Not to say officiating was perfect prior to this season, but everything from catch reviews to rough hits to clock/timeout management were under a meddling microscope through the first three weeks. With paramount issues like player safety and game outcomes at stake, people start calling for the head of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.Clearly, the real refs couldn't have come back any sooner—especially when you consider that the two sides (referees and owners) were only $60,000 apart per team in reaching a resolution. Relatively speaking, it was practically pennies holding back a multi-billion dollar business from pushing through the doldrums of the early 2012 season.Now that Goodell and Co. finally have everything sorted out, we can rest assured that there won't be any more on-field atrocities to clog up social media networks in upcoming weeks—at least not those created by crummy replacement refs.Before we head into the rest of the regular season with fair calls—and our faith in the black and white stripes restored—we're counting down the 10 worst officiating offenses in 2012. We hope this marks the end of bad calls and bad blood...and the return of some unmissable nights of football.
10. Vernon Davis catches a touchdown after play clock runs outThe first gaffe on this list probably doesn’t standout as overly egregious, but speaks to the replacements refs’ trouble with clock management (or simple acknowledgment that the clock exists) so far this season. In two instances during Week 2, the refs forgot to stop the game clock when a player ran out of bounds and after an incomplete pass. On this particular play, the play clock hits zero just before 49ers quarterback Alex Smith receives the snap and uncorks a touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis, breaking open a scoreless game. Obviously, no delay of game is called, and the suspect six is slapped on the scoreboard.
9. Jim Harbaugh challenges a play – with no timeouts leftSurprisingly, the Vikings handled the 49ers at home this past Sunday, taking a 24-13 victory to go 2-1 on the year. Not surprisingly, the officials in this game gave San Francisco every chance to crawl back in the fourth quarter. Following a run by Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh called his final timeout. Harbaugh then called over a referee and more or less said, “Oopsies, I meant to challenge the ruling on the field.” Not wanting to disappoint the reigning Coach of the Year, replacement ref Ken Roan granted the challenge, and the play was reversed as a lost fumble. Even crazier, Roan let Harbaugh challenge another fumble by Gerhart, since the coach earned back the final timeout he never had in the first place. Still with us? Good.
8. John Harbaugh gets called for unsportsmanlike conduct – for trying to call a timeoutWhile his brother Jim gets granted magical challenges/timeouts when he doesn’t actually possess them, Ravens coach John Harbaugh gets a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for…simply trying to call a timeout. Where is the justice? Apparently, the refs were extra sensitive from all the criticism over the first few weeks, and weren’t having any of that “head coach trying to get their attention business.” This call – one of many bad ones in the Ravens-Patriots Week 3 tilt – spawned the echoing “Bullshit!” chant at M&T Bank Stadium, turning Sunday Night Football into an episode of Monday Night RAW.
7. Referee tosses hat into end zone, causing player to slip and miss touchdown Not many fans know this little factoid, but a referee is allowed to throw his hat onto the field to mark a spot for a play, when another device (such as his trusty yellow flag) has already been deployed. It’s commonly done when a player runs out of bounds, and the official wants to mark the exit point on the field. It is important, however, not to throw said hat in the direction of a running, totally unbeknownst player, ESPECIALLY when said player has a chance to score a touchdown like Kevin Ogletree on this play. There is a chance the ref was just too sexy for his hat. Too sexy for his hat, what ya think about that?
6. Golden Tate’s crack-back block goes unflagged, $21,000 fine followsThought you’d see Golden Tate later on this list, huh? Well, by no fault other than his own (and the refs, of course), Tate has somewhat become the poster boy of the Replacement Refs Era, starting off with this doozy of a sequence in Week 2. After a broken play leads to a scramble by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Tate unleashes a vicious blindsided crack-back block on Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. Tate clearly launches on the defenseless player, so when the yellow flag hits the field, a foul called against the wide receiver is soon to follow right? Guess again. Tate, instead, goes unpenalized while Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter gets called for unnecessary roughness after lightly shoving Wilson out of bonds.
5. Steven Jackson’s nightmare on the goal line While Rams running back Steven Jackson has had difficulties scoring touchdowns over his career, it was always more due to his surrounding offense and lack of chances at the goal line. So obviously, when Jackson was presented with a prime scoring opportunity against the Redskins in Week 2, inside the one-yard line, he was probably licking his chops. On second down though, the refs called a fumble when Jackson was clearly down. The fumble was challenged, and the play was reversed, giving Jackson one more chance on third down. Jackson appears to convert the score, but the officials agree to disagree. Not only do they (falsely) rule him down before crossing the plane, Jackson was also flagged for spiking the football, pushing the Rams back for an inevitable field goal.
4. Ike Taylor gets called for pass interference without physically contacting receiverWe write “physically” since there is no way to determine whether the referees assumed that Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor used some sort of mental ability to interfere with Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes on this play. Like they’ve done countless times so far, the replacement referees seem to ignore the more physical part of an ensuing play (safety Ryan Clark unloaded on Holmes, in what was a legal hit), in order to acknowledge the most ticky-tack of interactions. Except in this case, Taylor literally didn’t lay a finger on Holmes, which proves that according to the replacements refs, Taylor is a mutant wielding mind powers none of us can even fathom, and that he must be stopped.
3. Seattle is granted fourth timeout, referees spew web of liesNot trying to pick on the Seahawks here, honestly, but it’s clear head coach Pete Carroll was wise enough to get down on the generous timeout practices of the replacement refs. During a Week 1 matchup with the Cardinals, the Seahawks were driving in the red zone to win the game, and called the magical fourth timeout with 30 seconds left, because, you know, spend em while you (don’t actually) got em. The referee did his best to explain why Seattle still had a timeout, but was quickly rebuffed by Fox’s referee expert, who more or less said that “making up rules along the way is not cool.”
2. Darrius Heyward-Bey suffers scary hit that goes unflaggedThere were several big and (arguably) illegal hits that went unflagged in the first three weeks (including shots to Ben Roethlisberger, Fred Davis and Greg Jennings), but when it comes to one definitive, and rather appalling, non-call of the early season, the helmet-to-helmet assault on Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey stands alone. Trying to link up with Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer in the end zone, Heyward-Bay got rocked by Steelers safety Ryan Mundy, actually getting struck in the facemask so hard that he lost consciousness before ever hitting the ground. Heyward-Bey remained on the ground for 11 minutes before being strapped to a gurney, and despite a referee standing right over the play, no flag was thrown. Instead, the referee correctly determined that what he witnessed was an incomplete pass. Can’t fault him on getting one thing right, but this play supports the theory that player safety is at risk while the scabs are calling the shots.
1. Goldengate: The Monday Night Football MassacreA three-week span of officiating atrocities was wrapped up, and rightfully so, by what some are arguing is one of the worst calls in sports history. It could just be the culmination of so many botches and blunders, but the referees clearly did themselves no favors by missing the mark, in every way possible, on the final play of the Packers/Seahawks nationally televised duel. All other prior bad calls in this game aside, Tate, who scored the alleged game-winner, committed offensive pass interference, which went uncalled. Instead, he was awarded a touchdown, despite overwhelming visual evidence that Packers safety M.D. Jennings had possession of the football. After a booth review should have made it even more apparent, the refs didn’t budge from their original ruling, and neither did the NFL upon further appeal.