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2023 Conference Championships

4 observations from the 2023 Championship Games

4 officiating thoughts on this weekend’s NFL conference championship games.

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From a mild upset to a stunning comeback, the 2023 championship games were entertaining and well-officiated. Here’s what stood out to me as I reflect on the weekend.

1. Officials keep Ravens-Chiefs game on track.

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The Baltimore Ravens completely lost their composure this weekend, picking up silly personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Smith and crew firmly penalized illegal acts and did their best preventative officiating. But when a team loses composure there’s not much to do except let the flag fly.

Here’s where the crew earned their money. No matter how mad they were at the situation, they kept their cool. If they started reacting angrily at the Raven’s conduct, it would have ramped up the temperature until a big fight, or a Ravens player would get ejected for conduct against an official.

That didn’t happen because the officials kept themselves under control.

2. NFC deep judges nail the game!

Field judge Anthony Flemming, back judge Grantis Bell and side judge Chad Hill had a wonderful game. The three worked together in the secondary and nailed critical, important calls all game. Bell and Flemming are in their fourth year in the NFL, Hill is in his sixth year. These officials did outstanding and it would not surprise me to see an extended run of excellence out of these officials.

3. Mix of veterans and newcomers pays off. 

Six officials worked their first conference championship ever, while Shawn Smith worked his first as a referee. Complimenting those six were other officials who were solid veterans with several conference championship games of experience.

Walt Anderson, senior vice president of officiating, got it right. All the officials on the field were worthy of the assignment and rose to the occasion and called overall called excellent games. 

4. Games can change quickly.

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At halftime of the NFC Championship game, it looked like the 49ers were sinking fast. It seemed like the second half would turn into a rout and Clete Blakeman’s crew would have to babysit both teams the rest of the game. 

Surprise.

In the playoffs, officials can never mentally relax and think the ballgame is over. Conference championship teams are too good and too proud to lay down and let the game go. Blakeman’s crew stayed on top of the game and were ready for the 49ers comeback.  

One more game to go! Stick with us the coming 13-days as we prepare for Bill Vinovich’s crew to call Super Bowl XLVIII.

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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