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AFC Championship officiating

Jets at Steelers

Ed Hochuli is the referee (full crew) in his sixth conference championship game.

Final | Steelers 24-19. Penalties: Jets 6 for 50 yards, Steelers 4 for 25 yards, 1 penalty declined (against the Jets). There were two replay reviews: a coach’s challenge (Jets) was reversed, while a booth review was upheld.

3rd Quarter | 13:01 remaining | Steelers 24-0. Jets called a timeout with the play clock about to expire. Quarterback Mark Sanchez pleaded with Hochuli that the play clock was not properly set. Sometime during the commercial, and with little explanation, the play clock was reset to 25 seconds, and the Jets were refunded their timeout. Not sure what caused this, but it’s the third mistake in officiating mechanics in this game.

2nd Quarter | 1:13 remaining | Steelers 24-0 | video. A hit on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez resulted in a sack-fumble that was returned for a touchdown. The replay assistant called for a review of the play, as it appeared to me that Sanchez’s arm was moving forward slightly. If his arm was moving forward, it would be ruled an incomplete pass, even though the ball ultimately went backwards (update: see comments for the rule). Hochuli upheld the fumble and the touchdown, saying that he determined Sanchez was not yet moving his arm forward when he was hit.

2nd Quarter | 12:59 remaining | Steelers 7-0. An odd situation as a measurement call clearly disadvantaged the offense. On a 4th-and-1, the Steelers tried to take advantage of a potential coverage mismatch by trying to quickly snap the ball for the next play. Hochuli stopped the clock and declared a measurement was in order. Now, the Steelers needed a yard, but it was closer to 4½ feet, and clearly short of a first down. Generally, a referee will grant the offense’s request for a measurement for a short distance to determine the official distance needed (rather than to see if a first down is attained). But when the offense is trying to take advantage by a hurry-up play, and the offense is comfortable with the fourth-down ruling, what difference does it make how far away it is?

Seemingly calling a different play on the restart, the Steelers were intercepted. Second instance of questionable mechanics in this game by this all-star crew.

1st Quarter | 8:50 remaining | No score. Still the first drive of the game and Steelers receiver made a catch at the 2-yard line. Jets coach Rex Ryan challenged the ruling, and referee Ed Hochuli overturned it on replay, saying the ball touched the ground. Ever so slightly, too.

1st Quarter | 11:32 remaining | No score. A penalty flag was thrown for an ineligible receiver downfield in error on a play where Ben Roethlisberger threw a backwards pass. I believe that the call came from a downfield official who would not have had an angle to determine a backwards pass from 30 yards away. But, that official was able to determine the reputed ineligible player from the distance.

1st Quarter |11:59 remaining | No score. A first down was granted to the Steelers on their opening drive on the basis that the receiver’s forward progress was stopped at a certain point. CBS commentator Phil Simms said the spot could be challenged, but I do not think it would be allowed on a forward-progress ruling, even if it relates to a first-down spot.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

2 thoughts on “AFC Championship officiating

  1. Question about this statement:
    “If his arm was moving forward, it would be ruled an incomplete pass, even though the ball ultimately went backwards.”

    The ball wasn’t tipped, so if the pass never went forward, wouldn’t it be a live ball?

  2. Good question. I was going to cite the rule, but I decided not to overload the post. Here it is from Rule 8, Section 1, Article 1, Paragraph 2b:

    If the passer is attempting to throw a forward pass, but contact by an opponent materially affects him, causing the ball to go backward, it is a forward pass, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground, a player, an official, or anything else.

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