During the coverage of last week’s 49ers-Panthers divisional playoff game, Football Zebras noted early that the officials were looking to keep control of a potential tinderbox of high emotion.
The opening drive by the 49ers had a few injuries and some post-play shoving. A late-hit foul was called which was very close, and I think the crew is shutting down any of this “marginal” activity to maintain order in the game.
Unfortunately, that did not work out in the officials’ favor, as taunting fouls were let go and a headbutting penalty, called earlier for the Panthers, was missed when the 49ers committed the same infraction.
Vice-president of officiating Dean Blandino sent a tape of the first quarter of that game to the officiating crew of the NFC title game as well as both the Seahawks and the 49ers. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network first reported that the video shows what Blandino expects to be done in similar circumstances in terms of fouls and non-fouls.
But, as Football Zebras writer Mark Schultz noted, the only thing that the crew from last week’s Niners game could have done differently was upped their vigilance during the dead-ball periods. Ejections really require some flagrant violation of the rules in the NFL, as opposed to being used as a tactical warning by officials in other levels of football.
Referee Gene Steratore has his umpire from his regular-season crew and five officials from five other crews. Steratore’s modus operandi is to diffuse any of the dead-ball bluster as the game progresses. I am sure he will visit both sidelines during the pregame and let key players and coaches know that this is a no-nonsense game and that it will be officiated that way.
If the game stays close, this can be self-regulating. A second-half personal foul penalty for an avoidable dead-ball infraction can seal the fate for an entire season. Most players would not push the envelope during a such a critical time and commit a foul that leads to a go-ahead score can be a link in the chain that determines who goes to the Super Bowl.
And, no official wants to make that call either. But if he sees it, he must call it.