For a moment during the third quarter of tonight’s Monday Night Football contest, it seemed that we had yet another refereeing controversy on our hands. As Broncos DE Malik Jackson sacked Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron, he grabbed McCarron’s facemask. But despite McCarron pleading for the call as he got up, referee Ed Hochuli—who has responsibility for the quarterback—didn’t throw his flag. But thirty seconds later, as the Bengals broke the huddle, Hochuli finally threw his flag and assessed the facemask penalty.
Because this has been such a bad year for officiating, a lot of people somewhat justifiably assumed Hochuli missed the facemask, but was told by the replay official to call it. Former NFL VP of officiating and Tito’s vodka aficionado Mike Pereira—who knows more about officiating the NFL than just about anybody—thinks this is what happened:
And here is ProFootballTalk spitting fire and brimstone:
It seems likely that Hochuli got help, either from the replay assistant at the stadium or from NFL V.P. of Officiating Dean Blandino in the league office. That would be a violation of the league’s policies on using replay, but there’s a widespread belief around the NFL that the league regularly violates those policies.
The NFL won’t admit it, but Hochuli had to have replay help in making that call. Otherwise, it would have been called immediately, and not only after ESPN showed the replay.
Replay officials aren’t allowed to chime in outside of specified periods, and besides, “penalty administration” falls under the non-reviewable section of plays. But considering that last week NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino said he told the replay official to tell the referee that he could eject Odell Beckham Jr., it isn’t outrageous to believe replay officials communicate to the referee in unsanctioned ways.
Except, in this specific case, we have very good reason to believe that isn’t what happened at all. It seems Pereira and PFT weren’t paying very close attention to the broadcast, and are forgetting that there are six other officials besides Hochuli on the field. Beginning at the :33 mark in the video above, you can see Hochuli conferring with two other officials before throwing his flag.
The most likely scenario is that Hochuli wasn’t convinced that he saw a facemask—and was perhaps worried about calling a phantom facemask penalty, like the one helped the Packers win a game a few weeks back—and decided to talk it over with his crew. One of his fellow officials saw the facemask, and so Hochuli made the call. This is actually good refereeing!
But the fact that somebody who knows the rulebook inside and out and somebody who covers football for a living believe otherwise is telling. After a year full of officiating controversies, absolutely nobody has any confidence in NFL referees to adjudicate the game properly. Hopefully the NFL takes Richard Sherman’s suggestion and drastically simplifies the rulebook.