- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Praise the perfection of the Patriots, Panthers and Bengals.

Then compare it to the maelstrom that NFL officiating has caused through the first half of the NFL schedule.

Hardly perfect.

Exhibit A: Back judge Greg Wilson missed an end-zone penalty in the final moments of Detroit’s loss at Seattle; he did not call Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright for intentionally batting the ball out of the end zone, which should have given possession back to the Lions.

Wilson was reassigned from his next game, taken off the prime-time matchup of Patriots-Colts.

Exhibit B: Side judge Rob Vernatchi and the rest of Pete Morelli’s crew lost track of time late in Pittsburgh’s victory at San Diego - a game the Steelers won on the very last play.

After a kickoff that was not returned, 18 seconds ran off the clock. The side judge is in charge of monitoring the game clock, which is kept on the stadium scoreboard.

Vernatchi was suspended for one game and the league said “the mistake will also impact the evaluation of the other six members of the officiating crew. Had the side judge or any of the other six on-field officials noticed the timing error, they could have corrected it.”

Exhibit C: In Arizona’s win over Baltimore, Ravens lineman John Urschel tried to report as eligible. But because referee Ronald Torbert was clarifying the number of a player who committed a penalty on the previous play, he never announced Urschel as eligible. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco even had pointed at Urschel as being allowed to catch a pass, which he did in the flat.

The play gained 6 yards, but the flags flew and illegal formation was called.

Later in the week, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino spread the blame between the referee and the player, adding, “We have to recognize this, and we want the player to get some acknowledgement from the referee. But again the player’s doing what he’s supposed to do. … We’ll make the adjustment and it won’t happen again.”

Granted, that’s just three plays from the hundreds on which officials must make decisions. But they bring up several disturbing notions that enrage coaches, general managers, owners, players and fans.

In this era of instant communication, anything remotely controversial involving officiating draws headlines. Much worse than the social media ballyhoo, though, is the perception that the officials don’t know all the rules. Or they don’t recognize infractions. Or there are too many rules. Or they can’t keep up with the pace of the modern NFL.

The folks working for teams must tread lightly in their criticism, though they haven’t necessarily been so careful ever since the “Fail Mary” ended the use of replacement officials in 2012. Plus, they’ve had plenty of ammunition for raising questions.

Blandino, as forthright as any NFL executive, has worked hard since taking over in February 2013 to explain the calls and clarify the rules - and the thinking behind them.

The NFL even has a video rule book that will be available before the season’s end as it tries to focus on educating the pro football world.

“The game has changed so much from its inception to where we are now,” Blandino told The Associated Press, “and that is one of the reasons we see more rules like we do now. The game is more wide spread, with more passing, and you have to have more rules around that area.

“Our focus is not on changing a rule for one situation that might come up every five or six years, because those could have unintended consequences. We’ve tried to pare it down and clean up the language. Of course, you start with a rule book and add to it and make exceptions, and sometimes it is hard to keep track of.

“We look at it from a holistic approach and try to clean up some of the language, and we’ve done that the last few years.”

Still, the complaints become more common - and louder - when there are screw-ups.

A popular target has become instant replay, especially with its limitations. For instance, the officiating crew in the Lions-Seahawks game couldn’t reverse the missed call on the intentionally batted ball because it’s considered a judgment call.

Some coaches have proposed making everything challengeable, which could lead to four-hour games. In college football, replay officials watch every play and can stop play if they want to review a play or on-field officials can request a review.

“We want to make sure we have the right list of reviewable plays, which goes back to the basic premise of replays,” Blandino said. “The purely subjective calls are not subject to review. The more subjectivity to the call, the harder it is to apply the standard of it being clear and concise.

“It is something that will continue to be discussed.”

Pot shots have been taken at the NFL’s centralized video review compound, too.

Why, for example, doesn’t Blandino and his staff in New York - one person monitoring each game, which includes tracking penalties, listening to the broadcast, plus other members of the officiating, technical and public relations staffs in the room - make the final call? The NHL does it that way and is generally applauded for its system.

“I think when we discussed it with the competition committee, there was a real desire to keep the referee as part of the process and part of the decision making,” Blandino said. “I think who has final say has been discussed, but I do not see it as that big a deal; we are coming 99 percent of the time to a mutual decision, coming to the same conclusion.”

In many instances, a very vocal public and a more quiet representation of club members have come to the conclusion that NFL officiating is problematic. Blandino and his crews - not to mention Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners - need a strong, crisis-free second half of the 2015 schedule.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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