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Burwell: NFL's position on officials is nonsense
5 hours ago • BY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
The NFL is in a class of its own in professional sports when it comes to selling you stuff.
Mostly what it sells you actually is quite pleasurable (those ultra-plush luxury box seats), relatively useful (that official Rams helmet wine-bottle stopper is a bargain at $25) or just wildly entertaining to those of us who relish a bit of high-quality mayhem and mischief. (I love the sound of air escaping from the lungs of a quarterback after he’s been blindsided. It’s the sound of victory.)
But sometimes what they try to sell you is just nonsense. By the way, I am being charitable when I say nonsense, because what I want to say is something far less flattering, decidedly more descriptive and quite a bit more vulgar.
What the NFL is trying to sell us on today is that replacement officials are just as good as the real ones, who just happen to be sitting at home because they’ve been locked out by ownership in a labor dispute.
This is true in the same way that a mint-condition, 20-year-old Pinto is as good as a mint-condition $400,000 Maybach.
Like I said before, nonsense.
That brings us to today’s latest misadventure in truth in advertising. The NFL’s official position is that the clock management misadventure that occurred in the Rams’ 27-23 loss Sunday to the Detroit Lions had absolutely nothing to do with the replacement officials.
"It was a mistake by the clock operator," an NFL spokesman told Jim Thomas, the Post-Dispatch Rams beat reporter in explaining the error when the stadium clock operator at Ford Field mistakenly stopped the clock just before the two-minute warning. "He stopped the clock incorrectly. The officials did not signal for it to stop."
Stop it. It doesn’t matter that the on-field officials didn’t commit the error in stopping the clock. It does matter that they had the authority to fix the mistake and failed to do so.
A seasoned NFL officiating crew would have done something to correct the glaring error.
A seasoned head of the officiating crew should have quickly realized that the play clock and the game clock were out of sync, that the clock operator made an improper assumption that Rams quarterback Sam Bradford had gone out of bounds, and would have immediately remedied the situation.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher was being extremely diplomatic Monday (or perhaps mindful of the league-wide memo that called for a gag order on criticizing the replacement officials) when he tried parsing his words so that they would not be misconstrued as being technically critical of the replacement officials.
He made a deliberate comment that this should be viewed as a clock operator error rather than a botched call by the officials. Yet he skillfully pointed out that while the error was not reviewable under instant replay, it was the sort of mistake that could be "correctable on the field."
Go back and look at the situation on your DVR player. The Rams should not have had to burn a timeout before the two-minute warning. But once the clock operator assumed Bradford slid out of bounds and stopped the game clock without visual instructions from the on-field refs, the 40-second play clock got ahead of the momentarily frozen game clock, and it threw everything off.
What seems rather obvious is that lead official Donovan Briggans should have stepped in and immediately remedied the situation.
Step 1: He should have given the Rams their timeout back.
Step 2: He could have corrected the clock discrepancy by immediately syncing the game clock and 40-second play clock at 2:39, then instructing the clock operator to restart the clock.
Now the entire history of the game’s final minutes would have been altered greatly.
Imagine what might have happened if Briggans had corrected the mistake. As Fisher said, he wouldn’t have burned a timeout to stop the clock because he wouldn’t have needed to. Instead, he would have kept his timeout and let the clock run down to the two-minute warning unless Detroit coach Jim Schwartz stopped it with his final timeout.
Then Fisher would have instructed Bradford to tuck the ball into Steven Jackson’s gut, and it wouldn’t have mattered if the entire Detroit defense had swarmed on Jackson 2 yards deep in the backfield. All that would have mattered is that a running play on third down after the two-minute warning would have forced Schwartz to use his final timeout — if he hadn’t already done so.
Either way, the Lions start their final drive with no timeouts, a much different prospect when you have to go 80 yards.
As good as quarterback Matt Stafford looked on that last drive, maybe the Lions still would have been able to go all 80 yards for a TD with no timeouts. But the task would have been a lot more demanding, and more than likely he couldn’t have worked the middle of the field so much with no timeouts to burn.
Regardless of whether the Lions would have won the game or tied it, the game was determined by a correctable error.
When it concerns judging what is good, reliable professional officiating, the ultimate measuring stick is this: Did you get the play right?
That didn’t happen here, and there’s no good way to sell that.
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Re: Burwell: NFL's position on officials is nonsense
I don't doubt for a second that the NFL's regular officials are very good at what they do. I also don't doubt they provide the NFL a valuable service given the importance of each game. And I don't begrudge anyone from trying to better his/her station in life by seeking a raise. But what the NFL officials are asking for is unreasonable. It is outlandish to expect the kind of outrageous jump in salary and other perks they are seeking. That the NFL could afford it is beside the point; I could afford to buy a car double the price of the one I currently drive, but it is neither feasible nor sensible. And although the NFL is enjoying immense popularity and profitability, it will not last forever. I say this because inevitably anything that is jammed down our throats 24-7 -even if we like it- will suffer somewhat down the road. NASCAR and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" come to mind. It's market over-saturation, pure and simple. And giving referees such an inflated salary bump is irresponsible business, because you can't unring that bell- once the union has it, they have it forever.
With the faster pace of the NFL game, these replacement officials are not going to be as skilled as their striking counterparts, but they'll adjust and get better, not worse. And each week they get better, the guys out on strike will lose more and more footing. We saw this past weekend that the NFL didn't turn into a tragic circus as "experts" feared it would.
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