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2021 Wild Card Playoffs

5 officiating observations from Wild Card weekend

5 officiating things that jumped out to me from the Wild Card round.



Six wild card games in three days, including a triple header one day! Whew! Six crews, 42 on field officials, and lots of calls. Here are a few thoughts about the weekend.

1. Mistakes happen no matter the experience

The Raiders-Bengals game featured an erroneous whistle (formerly called an inadvertent whistle). While senior vice president of officiating and development, Walt Anderson, didn’t publicly identify the official who blew the whistle, we think it was line judge Mark Steinkerchner. The line judge has 28-years of experience, 20 playoff games, including two Super Bowls.

I feel terrible for the official. An erroneous whistle is mortifying. People don’t believe it, but no one feels worse than the official for this error.

It goes to show that an official working his first game, or his last game after 28-years is never immune to mistakes.

2. Officials had to stay sharp, even when games weren’t

Billed as a “Super Wild Card Weekend,” many of the games were a let down. Of the six games, only two were compelling, and came down to the last minute or the last play.

These games usually present another challenge for the officiating crew. One team is losing, and looking bad doing it. The end of their season and Super Bowl dreams are ending. Frustration kicks in and sometimes players start taking liberties after the whistle. Or the winning team starts feeling a little chippy. Officials have to work just as hard between downs as when the ball is snapped. They appeal to players to play with pride and sportsmanship. And, they try to keep the game from being marred by a fight. But, if things get out of hand, they must be willing to toss the flag.

Thankfully, there weren’t any ejections this past weekend.

3. Excellent end of game officiating in Dallas

From our Liveblog on Sunday:

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott scrambled for a 24-yard run up the middle with seconds remaining. Umpire Ramon George is responsible for spotting the ball on the play, and the play cannot snap until the ball is ready for play.

If the offense spots the ball on their own, and the spot is correct, all the umpire has to do is touch the ball. Given a signal from the wing officials, George adjusted the snap to the hashmark. Additionally, the Cowboys linemen were getting in formation, leaving no room for George to get to the ball. This caused a minuscule delay as he squeezed in there, but because of the running clock, not even any wasted time was afforded.

The replay shows that George starts running from his position about 10 yards behind the quarterback, trailing the play. There’s really nothing more George could do to spot the ball more expeditiously. In fact, he showed tremendous hustle to get to the ball. It was the questionable play decision, and not the officials, that were responsible for the clock situation at the end of the game.

George did his absolute best to get the ball ready for play. When a team paints an official into a corner, or tries to run a 16-second sequence in 14 seconds, the officials can adjust their mechanics, but cannot vacate their mechanics. The officials adjusted their mechanics appropriately and did not vacate their mechanics to accommodate a team strategy that will go down in infamous lore.

4. Hatred for officials continues to increase

Dallas Cowboys fans were not happy with the officials and many booed. That comes with the territory, but this should never happen.

Believe it or not, officials are human beings. They have people that love them. The NFL isn’t paying them for the express purpose of screwing your team. You still have every right to boo an official, but throwing things could hurt, maim or kill. Please don’t do it.

Football officials in danger every time debris flies

5. The fouls were there

During the playoffs, the officials make doubly sure that the foul is there before throwing a flag. When throwing a flag this past weekend, the fouls were there and made a material impact on the play.

Good job in calling what needed to be called!

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?"