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2023 Wild Card Playoffs

5 observations from the 2023 Wild Card playoffs

5 officiating take-aways from Super Wild Card Weekend.



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The Wild Card weekend is fast fading away. But before we completely turn the page to the divisional playoffs, here are five things I noticed from the officials this weekend.

1. First-timers did great!

This weekend featured seven officials calling a playoff game in the second year – their first year eligible for the playoffs. That is an amazing number and they all did a very good job.

Also, four veterans had a “first.” Brad Rogers called his first playoff game as a referee, Jimmy Russell called his first playoff game on the field, Fred Bryan called his first playoff game his first year as a down judge (he was an umpire before that) and Jonah Monroe called his first playoff game as a back judge after having been a side judge for several seasons.

2. Weather dominated

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Brutally cold weather impacted the playoff games in Kansas City and Buffalo. Buffalo got 18 inches of snow and the city was digging out even as the game went on. In fact, the playing surface was likely the most clear surface in the entire metro area.

In Kansas City, it was the fifth-coldest NFL game on record. The NFL has several tools to help the officials say warm, that have evolved over the years. Today, the NFL gives each official a scuba-diving suit. This suit helps keep the cold and rain out. But when it is so brutally cold, the game turns into a mind over matter for the officials who have to bear down and concentrate.

3. Not too many scraps

Thankfully, we didn’t see very many incidents of pushing and shoving or out and out brawling this weekend. I don’t know if the NFL sent word to the teams to behave or the officials worked hard to keep a lid on things. Whatever the reason, it was nice to see teams concentrate on playing football instead of tomfoolery.

4. You may not like it, but those are the rules

The false start that (almost) knocked Taylor Swift off the front page.

We have covered the false start on the Lions extensively. And we have been called shills, jock-sniffers, tools, liars, stupid and a few un-printable adjectives. The bottom line is this: The NFL told the officials to watch for hand-twitches to induce a defensive offside. Jim Mello and Mark Pellis are decorated veterans. They won’t get something that wrong. The officials took direction from their bosses, Taylor Decker twitched and the officials threw a flag — just the way their bosses wanted them to.

5. And congratulations to a retiring official

Jim Mello is retiring after a stellar career. The Rams-Lions Wild Card game was his last assignment. We wish him the best!

We are on to the divisional round. Seven more games to go. Here’s hoping for some classic games and some classic officiating this weekend!

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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  1. Anonymous

    January 18, 2024 at 6:45 am

    Video doesn’t show the hamd twitch.
    Video deos show defense in neutral zone.

    Just stop gas lighting.

  2. Anonymous

    January 19, 2024 at 2:08 pm

    Between that and the insistence that Brad Allen was right (despite the NFL’s own video proving him wrong) from a couple weeks prior, Football Zebras seems intent on torching their credibility.

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