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Indecisiveness erases big Steelers gain

Each replay displayed the cringe-inducing conclusion: that wasn’t a trip. Even the umpire was unsure.



Roethlisberger: umpire ‘thought he saw a trip, but wasn’t sure’

chadbrown steelers

Umpire Chad Brown gets ready to spot the ball after a Bengals defensive stop.

Week 2: Steelers at Bengals

While a third quarter gain of 33 yards by the Steelers was being marched back by a tripping penalty, each replay on ESPN displayed the cringe-inducing conclusion: that wasn’t a trip. (There is no video available of the play, but Deadspin has an animated image of the foul, the third one on the page. Yes, there is a profanity in the headline; you’ll be just fine.)

For good measure, I confirmed this with an officiating source who requested anonymity. “For it to be a trip, the defender needs to lift his foot off the ground in a deliberate manner,” the source said.

Fair enough, calls are missed all the time; it is a game officiated by humans and subject to human error. But the way this particular call was allegedly decided goes against the commandments of officiating at all levels — all the way down to peewee. The principle is to call what you see, not what you perceive. In other words, if it looked like something happened, be sure you saw something happened.

The unusual observer in this call is Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He overheard the discussions while referee Mike Carey conferred with umpire Chad Brown, and he spoke about it on Vinnie & Cook on 93.7 the Fan/Pittsburgh (audio is embedded at the end of the linked article, relevant discussion starts roughly at the five-minute mark).

I wasn’t close enough for them to tell me to get back, but I was close enough to hear. And the guy that dropped the flag [Brown], he said he thought he saw a trip, but wasn’t sure. And there was all kinds of talk going back and forth, because the head official, Mike Carey, didn’t see anything. Obviously, that wasn’t his job to watch that; it was the other official. So they were talking and communicating, and [Carey] basically said, “Well what do you want to do about it?” And I’m thinking, “Please don’t call it against us.” And, sure enough, I heard [Brown] say, “I think I’m going to call it.”

Brown is a veteran official in his 22nd NFL season. He has two Super Bowls — two — on his résumé. And he reached a decision that wouldn’t be acceptable in a league of players shorter than tall grass. By nullifying the pass completion and tacking on the 10-yard penalty, a wishy-washy decision reached nearly a minute after the conclusion of the play was a 44-yard markoff on the Steelers.

Football Zebras reached out to the league for a response to Roethlisberger’s account of the discussion. While they have been responsive to many of our requests, the league office routinely turns down requests related to judgment calls. “This is a judgment call, ” said Michael Signora, vice president of football communications, “and we will leave it at that.”

Image: Cincinnati Bengals photo

h/t to Jim Bulger (@jdbaref)

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)