By Ernie Palladino
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The NFL had enough serious problems with concussions, domestic violence, and a national anthem protest that its declining popularity didn’t need a hit from within.
But the current replay system has created exactly that, especially the part where every touchdown comes under mandatory review. All over the league, plays that look like touchdowns, walk like touchdowns, and talk like touchdowns are somehow turning into non-scores and worse.
It’s time the Competition Committee review a system that has quickly morphed from an instrument to overturn the most egregious of errors to one that counts millimeters of ball movement that cost teams valuable points and turn potential victories into sure losses.
This falls well short of a popular but misguided suspicion that the NFL is somehow conspiring against certain teams. It would be shocking to think the league somehow had it in for the Jets or Lions, the victims of three of the most recent touchdown-review atrocities. But right now, the only ones outside of the opposition who benefit from the system are the gamblers who bet the under.
The Jets suffered two of those. Just last Sunday, Austin Seferian-Jenkins appeared to make a wonderful touchdown catch on Josh McCown’s fade pass to the right sideline. The legs hit in-bounds before the torso touched down across the sideline. The ball did move ever so slightly as he landed, but in no way did he ever “lose control,” the ultimate standard for overturning the on-field call.
He certainly had a better grasp on the ball than Robby Anderson did on his first of two touchdowns, a near-bobble as he crossed the end line. But, after an endless, multi-angle, slow-motion, off-site review, the replay official took it away and added to the tight end’s perfectly horrible afternoon.
The Jets hurt themselves plenty in that eight-point loss to the Panthers, what with Seferian-Jenkins’ outright drop of a touchdown pass, a McCown fumble that turned into a touchdown, and another score off a punt return, not to mention the slew of penalties. They didn’t need a replay official to add to the pile.
Seferian-Jenkins didn’t need it, either, especially after having suffered the season’s most controversial reversal in Week 6 against the Patriots. As they tried to come back in the fourth quarter of a 24-17 loss, Seferian-Jenkins caught McCown’s 4-yard pass by the pylon. It seemed obvious enough. Ball was secure, he hit the pylon, and still had it as he hit the ground and rolled over out of bounds.
Or not. Somehow, the replay official saw something nobody else saw on the million or so replays that hit the airwaves in the ensuing days. He ruled not only that it wasn’t a touchdown, but that Seferian-Jenkins had lost control before he hit the pylon and then only regained control as he tumbled out of bounds.
Fumble. Touchback. Pats’ ball at the 20.
The one person in the country who understood the ruling still hasn’t come forward. He’s probably in hiding.
The stupidity isn’t confined to MetLife Stadium, however. The Lions should hit the entire officiating crew with a malpractice suit over what happened against the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day.
They had a touchdown confirmed by replay, and then unconfirmed.
Lions tight end Darren Fells’ diving catch in the front of the end zone was ruled a touchdown on review. Coach Jim Caldwell was told of the confirmation as the officials set the ball for the extra point.
No need to rush the kick, right?
If they had, a second review would not have been allowed. But as the placekicking unit went through their normal, deliberate routine, the replay assistant buzzed down for a second look.
The Lions lost the touchdown because Fells hadn’t controlled the ball before it hit the ground.
Why the official changed his mind is anybody’s guess. Chalk it up to indecision or incompetence. Whatever, it was just plain wrong.
These things are happening all over the league.
The system was put in place to eliminate obvious errors in real-time officiating. The ref doesn’t see the receiver has one foot inbounds and half the other toe on the boundary, so fix it. A big bobble goes unseen because the ref is focused on a receiver’s feet, so call it back.
It was never meant to perceive otherwise imperceptible ball movement through endless delays, countless camera angles, and super-slow motion.
This loud-and-proud Ludite wouldn’t mind seeing all technology eliminated from officiating, from coaching challenges to mandatory end zone reviews.
That’s not going to happen.
What should happen, though, is a de-emphasis on the criteria for overruling touchdowns. If it takes more than one glance at a replay to overturn a touchdown, then let it stand. If it looks like a touchdown, it is a touchdown.
Correct that, and then the Rules Committee can get on to other problems.
Like pass interference.
Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino