Sunday’s Cardinals-49ers game was a disaster for the officials, one that stood out even against the backdrop of an especially woeful season for the zebras. How bad was it? The crew responsible has been demoted from primetime.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL has removed referee Pete Morelli’s crew from the Colts-Steelers game to be played on Sunday night. Morelli’s crew has been reassigned to another game.
Morelli’s crew botched multiple things on Sunday, including taking a down away from the Cardinals on a 49ers penalty, a move that led Arizona coach Bruce Arians to quip, “The officials were struggling. Mightily. They can’t count to three.”
Soon after, there was a six-minute delay as the officials lost track of downs. There were a series of questionable flags thrown, many of them crucial calls against San Francisco, leading Niners guard Alex Boone to go on this rant:
“I’m not really too worried about getting fined. I thought those refs sucked. I thought that—you call running into a player when nobody even touched you? I mean, if you don’t like what we say, then don’t like what we say. Don’t throw a flag for it. That’s what I’m sick of about this league. This is supposed to be a man’s game. Be a man. That’s what pisses me off. It’s guys like that, working in this league, work on this field, and we have to deal with it. You know, whatever. It was a terrible call. They’ve had terrible calls all game. I don’t care what the league says. I don’t care what Roger [Goodell] says. It’s the truth. You don’t like it, get the hell out of here.”
Pete Morelli is one of the most highly respected and highly graded referees in the NFL, so it’s odd that his crew made such a botch of things. But it’s been an awful season for them. It was the Morelli crew that failed to notice 18 seconds tick off the clock during a dead ball late in Steelers-Chargers, and the Morelli crew that missed what should have been a game-ending false start in Jaguars-Ravens. The first mistake nearly swung an outcome; the second did. Sunday’s gaffes weren’t an anomaly, and now the crew is being moved out of a national game.
Punishment for officials, beyond receiving bad grades, is exceedingly rare. But this is already the third public chastisement we’ve seen this year. Back judge Greg Wilson was removed from his crew and assigned to a lower-profile game after he missed an obvious illegal-batting call in Seahawks-Lions, and side judge Rob Vernatchi (who’s on Morelli’s crew) was suspended one game with pay for failing to notice the running clock in that Steelers game.