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5 officiating notes from the divisional playoffs

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What a weekend of NFL football! I’ve watched the NFL since 1978, and this is the best playoff weekend I can remember, featuring some of the most exciting games in NFL history.

Here are five officiating observations from the weekend.

1. No picky fouls

I cannot recall a penalty flag this weekend where I thought it was a phantom foul or an official was being overly technical and picky. If the crew saw a hold at the point of attack or another infraction that gained an unfair advantage, they flagged it.

Granted, playoff teams play more disciplined, cleaner football, so there should be fewer fouls. But still, good for the crews to call what needed to be called, and only what needed to be called.

2. Hochuli wasn’t having it

Referee Shawn Hochuli and his crew were not putting up with any taunting or arguing. They set the tone early, then sent a message that they would flag a player or coach no matter their status.

Tom Brady fans will disagree, but the hit which drew blood was not roughing the passer. Brady has argued with the officials for 22-years. But, according to Hochuli, Brady got in his personal space and “used abusive language.”

It’s one thing to flag Brady for unsportsmanlike conduct during a random Week 5 game; it is quite another to flag him in the playoffs in front of the home crowd. Good for Hochuli to keep to the same standards and not let sportsmanship slide because it is the playoffs.

3. Save the crew

In the Bengals-Titans game, side judge Don Willard stopped play and double checked the time on the game clock with referee Clete Blakeman. The clock was correct.

While you might say Willard stopped the game unnecessarily, this is what the NFL wants its officials to do. If an official senses something is wrong, they want that officials to stop the game. It doesn’t matter if it is a rookie in their first game or a 30-year veteran. Save the crew and get the call right.

Incidentally, Willard received kudos from us in Week 8 for saving his regular season crew.

4. Alternates earn their pay

Modern day playoff alternate officials do not spectate and wait for an official to pull a hamstring. It used to be only one or two alternates would be assigned to a playoff game. Now there are either five or seven alternates assigned to each playoff game.

Today, alternate officials have several duties. They keep the kicking balls safe, and they act as liasions between the field officials and the sideline. The alternates stick close to the coaching staff and relay information.

We saw alternate Shawn Smith help walk Rams coach Sean McVay through his penalty enforcement options.

Alternates cannot call penalties or make calls for the on field officials. But, in the intensity of the playoffs, they are a vital part of The Third Team.

5. Big achievements

Line judge Mark Perlman worked a playoff for the 19th straight season. Down judge Kent Payne worked a playoff in his 17th straight season. Payne has worked a playoff game on the field every year he’s been eligible. You have to go back to to Jerry Markbreit, Tom Kelleher and Al Conway to find that type of streak. Conway was assigned a playoff game for 23-straight years. Kelleher got a playoff game for 21-straight. Jerry Markbreit got a playoff game 20-straight years. Perlman and Payne are in some rare air.

The Super Bowl officials usually work the divisional playoff round. If this weekend officiating quality is any indication, the Super Bowl will be in good hands.

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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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2 thoughts on “5 officiating notes from the divisional playoffs

  1. Talk about self owning commentary.

    Point 1 – no picky fouls

    Point 2 – how great that the white hat (nepotism case) threw a petty 15 yard penalty on the GOAT. And, the ref was wrong to boot.

    Try to be a little objective.

  2. What a grand self own!

    1- no picky fouls

    2- how great that Hochuli (nepotism case) throws a petty personal foul flag on the GOAT. And, he Brady was correct to boot.

    Yeah, no picky fouls.

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