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2018 Conference Championships

5 observations from championship weekend

They will be talking about this Championship Weekend for years.



For the first time ever, both the NFC and AFC Championship games went to overtime in the same season. There is plenty to write about from the officiating perspective this weekend. Here are just a few of the things that stuck out to me.

Crucial missed calls

In the NFC Championship Game, there were two missed calls that the officials should have made. Both flags should have been on the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman. Early in the fourth quarter he appeared to grab a Saints receiver but there was no pass interference. Then late in the game, he hit another Saints receiver early for another no call. That one could have been either pass interference or unnecessary roughness. Each play took place on either side of the field, so both sets of wing officials got burned in this game.

In the AFC Championship game, there was a roughing the passer call that, on replay, turned out to be legal. The call helped the Patriots on a touchdown drive. The Chiefs were able to come back and force overtime, but that call made several tongues wag.

Remember, these calls happened in one or two blinks of an eye. The officials have a tenth of a second to make those calls. It is a hard job, but unfortunately, those calls made the news.

Blakeman center of calm during crazy finish in KC

In one of the most intense playoff games I’ve ever seen, referee Clete Blakeman was calm and poised throughout the entire contest.

When things get crazy, that is when the official need to be at his or her calmest. In the moments I saw him reviewing one tough catch after another, administering penalties, or conducting the overtime coin toss, I thought, “This guy is under control. Nothing fazes him.”

That’s the type of official that needed to be on a game like this and Blakeman and his crew stepped up to the plate.

Let them play?  

Good officials at all levels operate on a “make it be there” philosophy when throwing a flag. They don’t want to throw a flag on something technical that has no direct bearing on a play.

In the last two years, especially on pass interference in the secondary, the mantra seems to be, “make it really be there.” We’ve noted that plays that might have drawn a flag in the past, don’t draw one in the playoffs.

There is a flip side to the “let them play” philosophy, that former NFL referee and current Sunday Night Football officiating analyst Terry McAulay noted after the NFC Championship game.

Experience needed in such intensity

All NFL games are intense. All playoff games are more intense. Conference Championships games are extremely intense. Close, competitive Conference Championship games are off the charts intense.

That’s why we usually see several experienced veterans handle these games.

On the flip side, first-time Conference Championship officials such as Bryan Neale, Brad Freeman, Bruce Stritesky and Terry Brown rose to the occasion and handled themselves admirably. They are ready to take the next step.

Insane reviews

The AFC Championship Game had so many close reviews, CBS Rules Analyst Gene Steratore joked during one that in basketball parlance he “needed a layup” as so many of the reviews were almost impossible to get a clear look.

With so much on the line, the instant replay officials earned their paycheck yesterday.

For the officials, both championship games this past weekend were like riding bucking broncos. They had to dig deep to concentrate and keep the game under control.

For better or worse, this weekend will be talked about for years.

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?"