Bob Smizik: Blown calls cost Steelers playoffs; NFL needs full-time refs

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To the multitude of events large and small that contributed to the Steelers missing the playoffs, add two more:

Two blown calls -- one blatantly so -- played a large role in San Diego defeating Kansas City yesterday. Had Kansas City won, the Steelers, not the Chargers, would be headed for the playoffs.

In a season marked by poor officiating, it’s time to again raise the issue of full-time refs. Every major sport does it and if the NFL wishes to lift its current low level of officiating, it needs to do the same.

On to those two plays:

* With eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of a tie game, the Chiefs lined up to kick a 41-yard field goal. If good, it almost certainly would have been the game-winner. It was wide right. But San Diego was in an illegal formation and a penalty was not called.

This story from ProFootballTalk.com has a photo that shows seven Chargers lined up to the left of the long snapper on the line of scrimmage. The NFL rule book states that only six players may line up on the line of scrimmage on either side of the long snapper.

It was an easy violation to spot because it came with action at a standstill. As the photo shows, the illegal formation was in clear and full view of at least two game officials.

Had the penalty been called, Chiefs place-kicker Succop would have had another try and from five yards closer. There’s no such thing as a sure thing in kicking, but the likelihood of Succop missing consecutive kicks from 41 and 36 yards is extremely unlikely.

The NFL today acknowledged the mistake saying the play should have been ''penalized as an illegal formation.''

* In the first possession of overtime, the Chargers were in punt formation but the ball was snapped to Eric Weddle, an upback, who ran up the the middle for the first down. As he did his helmet came off and he lost the ball. The Chiefs recovered the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown.

Referee Bill Leavy announced that the first down had been made and the ball still belonged to the Chargers. He gave no explanation as to why the fumble and its recovery were negated.

Mike Pereira, the former head of NFL officiating who now works for Fox, offered this explanation on Twitter:

''In KC/SD game, linesman ruled that progress was stopped at the 30 before the helmet came off or the ball came loose. I don't agree. . . Replay did not stop the game because the ruling of forward progress is not reviewable. Should have been a strip and TD in my opinion.”

If the officials had done their jobs better, the Steelers would be playing at Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs, not the Chargers.

Referees are going to make mistakes. They are human. They can’t call a game perfectly. But they can call it better. If they worked full-time at their job -- not two days a week -- it stands to reasons they would do a better job. If all the players did was show up for the game, such a lack of preparation would be obvious in their performance. That’s what the refs do and it shows in their performance.

No question, the NFL would lose some of its officials if they asked them to go full-time. The product might -- might -- suffer in the short term. But in the long term, full-time officials would add a significantly higher level of integrity to the game and make it better for everyone.

The NFL needs full-time game officials. They need men who study the rules, attend seminars and work practices during the week, not men who are selling insurance or teaching. A billion-dollar industry should not have part-time employees in roles that decide games, seasons, championships, careers and lives.


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