(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({ google_ad_client: "ca-pub-3070301786099382", enable_page_level_ads: true });
Football Zebras
2009Week 12Morelli crew has ’embarrassing’ delays determining down and penalty enforcements

Morelli crew has ’embarrassing’ delays determining down and penalty enforcements

wpid-img_20151129_183746626.jpg

Week 12: Cardinals at 49ers

Referee Pete Morelli and his crew had a rough day in a season where high profile errors have beset the crew.

The history, of course, involves a clock operator’s error that wasn’t corrected by the side judge, leading to the side judge’s suspension. It also includes a missed penalty in a hurry-up offense that could have affected the ultimate result of the game. The officials involved in that play were downgraded, but no other discipline was given.

Things started to unravel for the crew in Santa Clara, Calif., as the 49ers were caught with 13 players on the field. Because there was a quick snap, four officials threw their flags at the completion of the down. (The referee, umpire, head linesman, and line judge all have the duty to count offensive players.) Morelli enforced this as a dead-ball foul, but in reality, this is retroactive to the snap, because the crew can clearly establish the personnel that were on the field at the snap. Therefore, it is (a) 5 yards and repeat the down, or (b) decline the foul and take the result of the play. The crew enforced this from the dead-ball spot and counted the down. (While 12-in-the-huddle can be called between downs, it may only be called against the offense.)

Once the next snap occurs, that misapplication can’t be corrected.

Shortly thereafter, there was a confusion on the number of the down that lead to an excruciating six-minute delay to rectify. At one point, Morelli announced “third down,” before eventually settling on second down. During the process, a Fox Sports cameraman zoomed into the log maintained by the down-box operator.

“It was just embarrassing,” said one officiating source.

Early in the second quarter, another botched enforcement almost hit the crew twice on one play. Cardinals receiver John Brown caught a Carson Palmer pass in the end zone, but side judge Rob Vernatchi threw his hat and his flag — a signal that Brown stepped out of bounds, returned in bounds, and was first to touch the pass. It was clearer on replay, but Brown had not re-established in bounds — hold this fact while I step through the play as it was called.

Morelli was willing to allow the 49ers to decline the illegal-touching penalty, but that means the result of the play stands, which is Brown catching the ball in the end zone. If a player is ruled to have illegally touched the pass, it means he was out of bounds and re-established in bounds. The result is not an incomplete pass. The 49ers must accept the penalty to nullify the touchdown catch. Eventually, Morelli announced the penalty would be accepted, but he was willing to grant the down incrementing to fourth down, with the Cardinals having their field-goal unit on the field.

Back to Brown being in or out of bounds. Since Brown did not get a second foot in bounds when he touches the ball, he is still out of bounds, even though his body is in between the sidelines. Only when the second foot comes down has the player re-established in bounds. With one foot in, the pass touches an out-of-bounds object, and is therefore incomplete. In that case, there is no foul — it’s just incomplete.

The call of Brown in/out of bounds is reviewable, and the 49ers could have challenged the call to get the incomplete ruling (and the flag picked up). While it is understandable to miss the second in-bounds foot at game speed, the fact that there was a lengthy delay to get the foul straightened out was unacceptable.

Morelli was in contact with either the replay booth or the game observer. For this game, the dean of referees, Jim Tunney, was assigned to the game, and possibility was involved in rectifying the botched enforcements.

For Morelli, this is very puzzling for those in officiating circles, because he is the consummate game manager. We graded him highly last year, and he deservedly won the Art McNally Award — usually given to a retired official, or at least one “retired” to replay — for his stellar career. It has been an uncharacteristic year for him (although, to be fair, some of these issues belong to his crew), and hopefully for everyone’s sake, the crew can shake this slump.

Update: I posted the following in the comments, but I am including them in the post to address those questions that were posed on these plays:

Re: the knee on a downed player. That is a personal foul, and should have been called. Obviously it was not seen, otherwise it would have been called.

Regarding the roughing the QB call: I left that out specifically, because I think there are mitigating factors. I saw the front angle and I didn’t see any contact to the head or a “stuffing” of the QB. When I saw the replay from the end zone, it was abundantly clear why it was called. When Palmer’s helmet jars like it did, it seems certain to be a forcible blow to the head. That end zone angle is roughly equivalent to the angle Morelli had. The directive also is to err on the side of caution and throw the flag if it appears to be roughing. Morelli was in the position he was supposed to be and did not have the best angle, yet he has the responsibility for that call. The Competition Committee is aware of this issue on roughing the QB, but it has not proposed a solution. For that, I can’t fault Morelli — he’s doing it exactly how they’ve asked him to do.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
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)

29 thoughts on “Morelli crew has ’embarrassing’ delays determining down and penalty enforcements

  1. Ironic that you’re going to criticize the refs..you might want to get your own facts straight. The 49ers had 13 on the field on Arizona’s offensive possession, not the Cardinals. Arizona quick snapped to prevent a challenge from the 49ers of the first down ball spot from the previous play.

  2. That WAS bad reffing, and the Bronco-Patriots might have even been worse. What is the excuse for not having full time officials, again?

  3. After last nights Broncos vs Patriots game I no longer know what offensive pass interference is. Additionally, I was totally confused on the so called Broncos extra time out penalty that had no affect on the clock. Such poor officiating.

  4. Are the NFL’s substitution rules like the NCAA’s? NCAA rules say it’s a blow-and-throw if you count more than 11 in defensive positions and the snap is imminent. If the extras are running off the field, you let the play go, then flag and enforce as needed.

  5. Don’t you think they missed a personal foul 4th Q 12:40 mark after Cardinals punted. #20 from 49ers stepping his knee on a Cardinals down player?

  6. After the Roughing the passer penalty on Dial, as a fan, I don’t know what a legal hit on the Quarterback is anymore. His head was up with no contact that I could see with Carson’s helmet and he did not go for his knees or ankles. It’s time for Morelli to retire or be fired by the NFL.

  7. I really don’t know how such things can happen. Really, I am not that guy who complains about the officials all the time. I think they have to do a tough job. And I can kind of “understand” how most of the big errors this season could happen. I can kind of understand why they erroneously didn’t call the illegal bat, how the Morelli crew missed the false start at the end of Jacksonville-Baltimore and so on.

    But I cannot understand how these kinds of basic rules errors are possible. I am just an NFL fan that is interested in rules and officiating a little bit more than the average fan. And I think the two enforcements the Morelli crew had problems with are pretty basic. I witnessed another situation like this in one of the London games: Craig Wrolstad wanted to add a penalty for running into the kicker to the end of the kick. His crew then corrected him and the penalty was declined (was not on TV sound but you could see the crew conference and then the respotting of the ball) but I cannot understand how such basic enforcements can lead to confusion on the highest level.

  8. Re: the knee on a downed player. That is a personal foul, and should have been called. Obviously it was not seen, otherwise it would have been called.

    Regarding the roughing the QB call: I left that out specifically, because I think there are mitigating factors. I saw the front angle and I didn’t see any contact to the head or a “stuffing” of the QB. When I saw the replay from the end zone, it was abundantly clear why it was called. When Palmer’s helmet jars like it did, it seems certain to be a forcible blow to the head. That end zone angle is roughly equivalent to the angle Morelli had. The directive also is to err on the side of caution and throw the flag if it appears to be roughing. Morelli was in the position he was supposed to be and did not have the best angle, yet he has the responsibility for that call. The Competition Committee is aware of this issue on roughing the QB, but it has not proposed a solution. For that, I can’t fault Morelli — he’s doing it exactly how they’ve asked him to do.

  9. They also missed a Troy Niklas touchdown reception. On a play where pass interference was called the ball bounced off the defenders heel just before he stepped down out of bounds and Niklas caught it in the end zone.

  10. I first noticed in 2012 (games officiated by the replacement officials) when the downfield officials began killing the play if more than 11 players were in position with the snap imminent (I remember thinking the scabs were enforcing either a NFHS or NCAA rule in NFL games). Previous to that, all defensive 12+ players penalties were enforced as a live ball foul–regardless as to whether or not D12 was attempting to leave the field. Anyone know why the NFL made this rule/enforcement change? This takes a “free play” away from the offense.

  11. Lance, that was a specific rule change enacted for the 2012 season. The change may have been a result of a play late in Super Bowl XLVI where the Giants had 12 men on defense. The Patriots got 5 yards and replay the down, but lost several crucial seconds while the play happened, and some wondered whether the Giants had committed the penalty intentionally with that as the desired result.

  12. Ben,

    Thanks for your reply. I agree on RTP penalty, the helmet movement was a factor. On all levels, targeting or illegal helmet contact are not 100% correct but officiating philosophy sides with safety.

  13. I go back to this offseason when Bill Belichick suggested that the NFL install fixed cameras along the goal line and side lines to help determine the result of scoring plays. The NFL voted “no”. Almost unanimously if I remember correctly. Bottom line is the NFL would rather be a little less than perfect if it means were talking about them on Tuesday. They could make life easier on the refs. They could install a ref in the press box whose sole job count players on the field and track down and distance. Page the ref if a team has too many players. Page the ref if he says 3rd down when its really 2nd. Not to defend some of the morons policing these games, but every offseason the rule book gets bigger and bigger, but the officiating crews don’t. It’s 2015. What is some random guy on the sideline track down and distance with pencil and paper? But at least they’re writing it down, unlike the way they tracked air pressure in footballs prior to January of 2015. But I dirgress…

  14. What is the 49er rusher to do when he is all alone on going to sack the QB and the QB ducks his head. The player cannot change his angle at the last second. Stupid call regardless if his chin is contacted. What about the four pass interference calls basically in a row. At least two were not Fouls. What is a defensive play to do when the receiver run directy into the defender who has he ability to have contact 5 yards down field., with the ball on the 3 yard line, that was a terrible call, because the QB tosses he ball at the same time and the receive would have to be 15 feet tall to catch it anyway. What about the fact that the winning TD was set up by a play where the play clock expires clearly before the snap. Who the hell is watching that? Is that reviewable? Too many calls went again one team regardless how poor the officiating was. It was like they had a bet on the game.

  15. Steve,

    You must have been watching another game seriously. Here’s a break down of the penalties
    3rd Quarter

    12:27 DPI for Fitz. The ball is thrown to the corner of the end zone, ball is catchable. Defender initiates contact not playing the ball. Easy call.

    11:38 Illegal use of hands for Floyd. The ball is thrown to another player but 49ers defender made contact with Floyd facemask and also wrapped his hand around him (holding).

    10:50 DPI for Fitz. Again contact happened more than 5 yards while ballin the air. Defender not playing the ball.

    10:47 DPI for Gresham. As above contact while the ball in the air and not playing the ball.

    If you dispute any of those plays. Bring the film and point exactly why it shouldn’t be called.
    Those 4 calls were the easiest calls all game. Not the fault of the crew to keep calling them when 49ers defenders kept doing the same thing on all the DPI’s (Contact while the ball in the air and not playing the ball. None even looked to where the ball was). Let’s be fair.

  16. Uh, “Insider”, maybe it wasn’t mentioned because it was not relevant! Sheesh.

    Also, FYI, came here from an article today noting that the crew has been “demoted” from the Sunday night game: http://bit.ly/1NquNj2

  17. Interesting point, Lance. Looks like the replacement officials were diligent in their rules knowledge and application, contrary to what is seen this season. By the way, can anyone disagree that without doubt, the current season which still his 1/3 of a season remaining, has displayed the worst officiating in the history of the league? Where is Jerome on this?

  18. Sorry CRV, was “unavoidably delayed” for a few days. To be brief as possible, this season has downright disgusting. Missing 4 plays a game (as Blandino says) would be ok if they were minor calls, but we are seeing SIGNIFICANT, BIG calls missed that determine game outcomes. The replacements may have ended on that controversial call on Monday night, but the reply official (NOT a replacement) should have fixed that play.
    I also look at the age of so many of these officials…slow, too cavalier, and obviously not studying the rules (e.g. Triplett). Egos, egos, egos.

Comments are closed.

Top