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5 observations from the divisional playoffs, 2019 post-season

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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.

Shawn Hochuli (Tennessee Titans)

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.

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Don’t anticipate

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.

Bill Vinovich (Tennessee Titans)

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.

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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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6 thoughts on “5 observations from the divisional playoffs, 2019 post-season

  1. Sarah will work the Super Bowl the first year she is eligible. Grades don’t matter anymore. She could be the worst DJ in NFL history, yet still get a playoff assignment.

  2. Why, because she’s a woman?
    They wouldn’t put her in a situation if she wasn’t ready. But considering Torbert’s crew was one of the cleanest this year (Cowboys/Packers Week 5 being the only major blip), there’s not much to argue. I feel that they worked their tails off from Week 1-17 and beyond.
    Is she the best DJ out there? No. But she’s far from the worst. When it’s her time, she will work the super bowl.

  3. If they were that clean I would think we would’ve seen more of team Torbert in the playoffs. But only 4 of them got assignments so far, with Scott Edwards (SJ, worked same sideline as Thomas) in the WC and CC, Thomas in a Div. game, and the other 2 were alternates in the WC round. (No Torbert) But Thomas belongs; her work ethic and calls are at least on par with the other officials, if not better.

    Also, to add to the “Don’t Anticipate” section, you should definitely do your homework on the 2 teams you’re about to share the field with. Specifically learn which players and coaches you should keep a short leash with. But I agree, anticipating a blowout based on stats will change your mindset and you may be caught flat-footed when your expectations are annulled. I reffed a soccer game between one of the best teams in the state and a mediocre team. I was expecting a blowout, but instead the better team played a very slow possession game and only won 3-1. That game was more mentally demanding than physical, so I was using the dead time to work on my positioning and mechanics while I waited for something to happen.

  4. Thomas, to her credit, has worked to improve as an official. That being said, I am wondering if she is getting pushed faster than she should be because of her gender. Scott Edwards is probably the best SJ in the game so having him on the same sideline as you really makes things easier than they otherwise could be if she was working with a lesser SJ. I would like to see her succeed in a regular season where she has less of a safety blanket at SJ before I would consider giving her a CC or Super Bowl appearance. As we have seen in MLB, sometimes being with the right Crew Chief can mask issues.

  5. You want to know who the best DJ is?

    Ask the 32 chain crews that work the field each week. And, I bet #53 is not in the top half.

  6. @Michael, I agree that the quality of your team makes a difference. That’s one reason why they went to mixed crews for the playoffs. I’ve been on crews that were masters of their craft, and it made me do better too. I’ve also been on crews that had officials that should not have been, and they brought me down with them.

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