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Chippy games can make officials look bad



SymonetteCheffers’ divisional playoff crew in a near no-win situation

NFC Divisional Playoff: 49ers at Panthers

The divisional playoff game last week between the San Francisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers was a frustrating game to watch through the eyes of an official as both teams were determined to use physical and emotional intimidation to defeat the other.  Carl Cheffers and his officiating crew had a hard time keeping the game under control, and his crew was criticized for inconsistently applying the unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness flags.

The game started out with the officials having to jump in between opponents who were angrily jawing with each other.  The officials decided to send the message early by flagging Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for head-butting a 49ers player after a brief skirmish (video).  That was a good and much needed call to help get control of the game.  Normally, teams would get the message the clean up their respective acts.  But the Panthers and 49ers continued their rough-playing ways.

The flag on Munnerlyn set the baseline for intolerable behavior.  The onus on the officiating crew from that point on was to consistently flag any activities that went over that baseline.  An unfortunate miss by the crew happened later in the first half when receiver Anquan Boldin delivered a near carbon-copy head-butt, but he was not flagged (video).  A lack of a flag on the 49ers showed inconsistency on  the officials’ part and served to inflame the situation instead of settling both teams down.

Fans would have praised the Cheffers crew had they flagged Munnerlyn and then that flag convinced both teams to rein in the unnecessary roughness.  Instead, both teams decided to ignore the message the officials sent in flagging Munnerlyn and kept up the rough play.  So, the officials had to ramp up their dead-ball officiating and had to decide after just about every play whether something was worthy of a flag or not; and if they were wrong on just one of those judgments or happened to miss a cheap hit, all of that hard work would be for naught.  And so it was with the missed Boldin head-butt.

Had this divisional playoff been a high school or NCAA game, it would have rained yellow laundry.  Amateur officials are instructed to not tolerate any late hits, taunting, or other unsportsmanlike acts; however the NFL doesn’t like a flag-fest and it definitely doesn’t want to see its stars get ejected — especially in a playoff game. 

In my opinion, the Cheffers crew could have thrown a few more unsportsmanlike conduct flags for taunting early on, but other than that there wasn’t much more the crew could have done to control the situation.  When two teams decide to get down into the mud and stay there, the officials have to follow, and it is never a pretty sight.

Image: Carolina Panthers photo

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"