The NFL Has An Officiating Problem



National Football League officials on the field conversing among themselves

Ozair Hussain

The NFL has an officiating problem.

There’s no question being an NFL referee is difficult. Officials are responsible for keeping up with some of the world’s best athletes and making split-second decisions on a weekly basis.

However, in a season marred by horrible officiating, it feels as though calls are becoming more egregious week in and week out.

For example, the Washington Commanders lost to the New York Giants in Week 15 on a controversial decision by the referees to not call defensive pass interference on the Giants. The no-call in question came on a fourth-and-goal with under a minute left in which Commanders wide receiver Curtis Samuel was contacted by Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes attempting to catch a pass in the end zone. Both teams were 7-5-1 entering the game, and the loss caused the Commanders to slip to the no. 7 seed.

The no-call potentially kept the Commanders out of the playoffs as they were eliminated by the Cleveland Browns in a 24-10 Week 17 loss. The Commanders went on to beat the Dallas Cowboys 26-6 in their regular season finale.

If the referees called defensive pass interference on the Giants, it would have given the Commanders a 1st and goal at the Giants one-yard line. There’s no telling if the Commanders would have been able to score a touchdown on that potential possession or the Giants would have had a goal line stand, but no one will know because of the no-call.

In addition, the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Seattle Seahawks 16-19 in a Week 18 overtime game filled with questionable no calls by referees. There was a multitude of no-calls, including Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf not being flagged for shoving Rams’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s facemask following a late hit out of bounds on Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith.

Another no-call was referees missing a taunting penalty on Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs for pointing at the Rams sideline following an interception in overtime. The penalty would have pushed the Seahawks back 15 yards and kept them out of field goal range.

These no-calls not only resulted in helping the Seahawks make the playoffs, but they also helped eliminate the Detroit Lions from the playoffs as well. To make matters worse, the Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers 20-16 on the road in the final game of the regular season. If the Seahawks lost their game to the Rams, the Lions would have made the playoffs.

The Rams, Lions and NFL’s competition committee were reportedly bothered by the official’s performance.

NFL Quarterback Jared Goff number 16 Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit Michigan 2022 Season against Commanders (Flickr)

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that a team executive unassociated with either the Rams or Lions told ESPN there is a real groundswell of unhappiness with officiating that is much deeper than it has been in recent years.

To make matters worse, criticism of the officiating reached a boiling point during the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 31-30 come-from-behind win against the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wild Card round. Los Angeles Chargers star defensive end Joey Bosa ripped officials, saying, “there just needs to be more accountability.”

Bosa was flagged three times in his team’s historic collapse against the Jaguars as the Chargers became the first team in NFL playoff history to lose a game in which they had a +5 turnover margin. Bosa was flagged for an offsides penalty on a third-and-seven which not only negated a 10-yard sack but also led to a Jaguars touchdown. Bosa was also flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a comment made to official Shawn Smith which prompted Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson to attempt a 2-point conversion making the score 30-28.

On top of that, porous officiating came to a head during Championship Sunday this past weekend.

In the NFC Championship Game between the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith made a phenomenal one-handed 29-yard catch on their opening drive of the game on a fourth down and three. However, replay reviews explicitly showed Smith did not maintain possession of the football as he went down to the ground.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan ultimately opted not to challenge the play which led to a touchdown. However, Shanahan should not have had to worry about doing so if the officials correctly overturned the call on the field, especially with the expedited review process that was used throughout the regular season.

The officiating in the AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinatti Bengals was no better. The officiating in the game was so atrocious that “NFL rigged” trended on Twitter. There were two calls in question that stood out amongst them all.

The first call was on a third-and-nine with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter.

The Bengals seemingly stopped the Chiefs on the play in question. However, the Chiefs received a second chance at converting the down after lead official Ron Torbert deemed the previous attempt was blown dead by another official. The Bengals stopped them on the repeated down, but a defensive holding penalty on cornerback Eli Apple gave the Chiefs a new set of downs before they were forced to punt.

The second call was on a third-and-four with 17 seconds left in the game.

Bengals outside linebacker Joseph Ossai received an unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes out of bounds late after a 5-yard scramble. The 15-yard penalty moved the Chiefs into comfortable field goal range and a Harrison Butker game-winning 45-yard field goal with three seconds remaining.

The controversy surrounding the call stemmed from the fact it decided the outcome of the game. Additionally, there was an uproar over officials missing two potential offensive holding penalties by the Chiefs offensive line.

With Super Bowl LVII less than a week away, problematic officiating plaguing the two Championship Games is the last thing the NFL needs. The league will undoubtedly have a lot of contemplating to do in the offseason, especially if this continues in the Super Bowl.