Before we turn our attention to the conference championship games, here are five things I noticed from the officials this past weekend.
Once-in-a-career calls in the Ravens-Titans game
The divisional playoff game in Baltimore featured some weird plays, hence some weird calls were necessary and Bill Vinovich’s crew nailed each one. We had illegal touching of a punt, blocking after a fair catch signal, officials’ time out to repair pylon cam and a kickoff before Vinovich blew his whistle.
Each of those calls made the officials make rulings on things they’ve only talked about but not seen on the field. Vinovich also needed to make some common sense calls.
They rose to the occasion.
Catch the instigator
During the historic scoring blitz by the Chiefs, Damien Williams ran for a touchdown. At the end of the play, the ball carrier dropped the ball on the ground, landing near the face of the defender. The defender jumped up and angrily threw the ball away. Normally chucking the ball like that is unsportsmanlike conduct on the chucker. But the officials had a keen eye to catch the Williams taunt and they had the common sense to only flag Williams.
Had the defender thrown the ball at a player or official, it should have been a foul, but it wasn’t a targeted toss.
Congratulations to Mearl Robinson, Chad Hill and Anthony Jeffries for earning their first on-field assignment in the playoffs – Jeffries and Hill in their first year eligible.
Also congratulations to Shawn Hochuli on earning his first referee assignment in the playoffs in his first year eligible. He previously officiated playoff games as a back judge.
It’s always good to work new blood into the playoffs and all first-timers proved themselves worthy.
Sarah Thomas belongs
Say what you want about Sarah Thomas (and many have), but she belongs in the NFL. She had to make accurate calls to merit this playoff assignment, and her mechanics are solid.
This was her second consecutive playoff assignment, after her on-field playoff debut in the divisional round last year. She is not eligible yet for the Super Bowl, but do not be surprised to see her work the big game in the coming years.
Sometimes in the high school games I work, I go into a Friday night and think to myself, “On paper this should be a close (blowout) game.” Then the exact opposite happens. I was prepared for a blowout, then suddenly I need to ratchet up my intensity as things are close. Or, I am disappointed that a hyped game is not competitive.
The antidote to being caught flat-footed to a surprise game result to first, simply don’t peek at records and stats before the game. A few surprise games should teach that lesson. Secondly, officiate every play as a game in itself. Don’t think about the stunning result happening around you. Be attuned to the players, their moods, and momentum.
While fans have this luxury, officials can’t think, “This game is over” when a team extends their lead. First of all, the teams haven’t finished playing and second, when officials think the game is over, they relax and miss cheap shots and other fouls.
The Hochuli and Vinovich crews appeared to stay focused during their games that produced stunning results. They couldn’t afford to be stunned until they got to the locker room.
It is always a melancholy time when we can count the remaining games on one hand, but we are excited to see some of the best football of the year in the next three weeks.