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5 observations from championship weekend

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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.

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Mark Schultz
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?"

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9 thoughts on “5 observations from championship weekend

  1. Observation –

    The officiating is a disgrace. It’s become a disgrace because of misplaced hiring priorities.

    At the front end … Hire based upon merit alone.

    At the back end … Nobody gets to stay on the field. The position needs to be earned each year.

    Anyone associated with the NFL and the officials should feel sick to their stomach about how the Saints got shafted.

  2. @Knowledge Is Good
    January 21, 2019 at 4:31 pm
    You said in an earlier post that the NFL shouldn’t hire women, so which is it, hire the best or only the best men?

  3. If Vinovich felt he had seen the play clearly enough to offer an opinion, and he thought it should have been DPI or helmet-to-helmet, could he as the referee, over ruled the DJ and SJ’s non-call. If one of the other officials, and not Vinovich, had a different opinion, could they have asked Vinovich to overturn the call?

  4. Goodgrr, I cannot speak for Knowledge is Good, but having seen all of the women currently officiating FBS games, none I consider NFL caliber at this point. That may change as they obtain further experience. What the NFL needs to stop doing is hiring officials who struggle to even get a middling or lower Bowl assignment. If an official is not consistently on the short list for their conference’s top assignments, they should not even be attracting consideration by NFL. A number of B1G officials worked the past 2 Championship Games. Those are the officials the NFL should be looking at.

  5. @goodgrr – Let me be crystal clear! Women should not officiate in the NFL. NEVER! Women do not play football, therefore there is no role for them as officials.

    I am not saying you need to be an ex NFL player. There are good (133) and bad (110) examples of that wearing stripes.

  6. @ Knowledge Is Good

    You are wrong–women and girls do play football, at the flag football, “Pop Warner”, middle school, high school and NCAA levels, probably some adult recreational leagues, and maybe even some semi-pro or pro (non-NFL) leagues.

  7. Why didn’t the NFL office buzz the replay booth in New Orleans so they could buzz Vinovich and ask him to huddle his crew to discuss the non call. Or the replay booth could have buzzed Vinovich immediately without NY getting involved. If they had done so, perhaps several officials would have suggested they throw a flag especially if they showed the play on the video board where maybe one of the officials watched. Since they couldn’t ask Vinovich to look at the replay, they could have asked him to huddle with his crew to see if all agreed with call.

  8. @foodguy65 – the NFL office does not buzz replay over a non reviewable play.

    It was on the crew and ultimately the white hat to realize a mistake was made and gather to discuss. They do it all the time. This gross error is on (in order) the SJ, the BJ, the DJ and ultimately the R. Of course, this would probably not happen if the crew had worked together all year and trusted each other. But, the NFL is carrying a ton of weak officials and needs to create “all star” crews for the playoffs to compensate.

    All must pay a severe price. The very least should be a significant unpaid suspension. No matter what the price, it is not as severe as the price the Saints paid for their gross incompetence.

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