The NFL passed out their various fines for the conference championship games, and word has finally made its way out. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was fined $7,875 for his end of game taunting. Ian Rapoport said it was for his taunting of Michael Crabtree, but I wonder if it was more for the choke sign intended for Colin Kaepernick. It is of little consequence at this point, but just worth a mention.
More importantly, both Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers were not fined for their respective personal foul penalties. Donte Whitner was called for unnecessary roughness in the first quarter for his hit on tight end Luke Willson. In the speed of the moment, I think it's pretty obvious the referees are going to make throw this flag.
Officials don't have the benefit of instant replay for personal fouls. As we see in slow motion, the hit was actually to the shoulder.
The league is trying to mandate safety, and the officials are going to err on the side of caution. And yet, given how big an impact a personal foul penalty can have on the game, why doesn't the NFL allow such penlties to be reviewed? If you maintain the same number of challenges available to a coach, adding more plays to be reviewed really wouldn't slow the game down all that much. Maybe more challenges are used, but that's why they are available to the coaches. To make sure plays are correctly called.
This particular play did not really end up costing the 49ers. They eventually forced a punt, and on the subsequent possession, marched down the field and scored a touchdown. But obviously this single play is not the point.
Donte Whitner’s 2013 totals … Unnecessary roughness penalties: 5. Amount fined: $0. #49ers— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) January 24, 2014
Five penalties, no fines. I imagine Donte Whitner hasn't helped himself by his attempts to change his name to Donte Hitner, but even still, this would seem to be a pretty good sign that the NFL needs to provide some kind of in-game solution to bad calls on personal fouls. I understand that the league wants to make the game safer. And they have officials erring on the side of caution on big hits. If you're going to have officials erring in one direction, there really has to be a solution when they are wrong.
At the end of the second quarter, Carlos Rogers was called for unnecessary roughness on the Seahawks final offensive play. The 49ers took over on downs with 20 seconds left at their own 23. As this video shows, the unnecessary roughness call was pretty weak. It happened after the incompletion, so the 49ers still took over, but they were pushed back from their own 38, to their own 23.
There are two problems with this call. The first is that Rogers shove of Golden Tate was incredibly weak:
The second issue is that the play actually wasn't even over when this happened. After the flag was thrown, the ref called it a personal foul, but said it was after the play was over. As this next GIF shows, the ball was still in the air when Rogers pushed Tate. The refs don't have the benefit of slow motion, but this seems way too bang-bang to say the play was over.
Had they not ruled the play over, the Seahawks would have gotten 15 yards and the first down, obviously hurting the 49ers cause. But it's the combination of the two issues that bugs me. The NFL seemingly had a particularly rough year with officials. Either refs have been too quick to throw flags, as these two instances show, or they've been too hesitant to throw flags, as we saw in the 49ers-Packers and 49ers-Panthers game.
I'm not going to begin to pretend that the 49ers are the only victims of bad officiating. The 49ers benefitted from some missed calls against the Panthers, while also getting calls against the Panthers that helped them. This goes beyond just "the refs are out to screw us and only us." NFL referees had a bad year in 2013 across the board.
I don't know if making them full time would make a difference, but it's one option. Adding replay on certain penalties would also help correct bad calls. Potentially game-changing penalties need to be correctly made, and instant replay provides referees a chance to correct a mistake. A 15-yard personal foul, or a huge pass interference call can be just as big a game-changer as a fumble, or whether a player got two feet in bounds. Why shouldn't be reviewable?
As I said before, I'm not saying you give teams more challenges. You could stick with the current challenge allotment, and still improve the quality of the calls on the field. I really don't see what the downside to this would be. But the NFL doesn't allows apply logic to every situation, so we'll see how this goes.
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