And Injustice for All
All We Wanted Was a Fair Game
Let me make this clear up front: I think the game officials overall did a fantastic job in the AFC Championship game Sunday.
I hear on the radio and see on TV and read in the newspaper that you can't blame the game officials.
When the field at Gillette Stadium was in less-than-perfect condition, opposing coaches and players complained about that. But the field isn't subjective like game officials. Bill Belichick always said you couldn't blame the field -- whether it was New England's or another team's, and regardless whether it was as detrimental or more to the Patriots -- because both teams play on the same field, and the field discriminates not.
But officials can, consciously or not. Officials are subjective. The best anyone can hope is that they are at least fair.
Tony Dungy got what he wanted: What was a penalty in the first game of the regular season [was] still a penalty in the playoffs.
And then some.
What was a penalty in Week 1 was a penalty in the playoffs. But what was a penalty for one team was not a penalty for the other.
The most glaring of these discrepancies is the treatment of pass interference against each team. Let's start with defensive pass interference.
With the Patriots defense sagging -- Indianapolis maintained possession for about 7 of the first 8 minutes of the 3rd quarter -- the Colts were pressing again; they had just been handed a questionable neutral zone infraction, called against Richard Seymour, which gave them a first down at the Patriot 22. Joseph Addai ran for 3 yards, and then Peyton Manning lofted a jump ball to Reggie Wayne in the back of the end zone.
Ellis Hobbs, who has had a spectacular playoffs, was right there. He leapt straight up, and the ball drilled him in the back. They called it "faceguarding," which technically is correct, but it was a pretty weak call. There seems to me a pretty good chance they were going to call that whether Hobbs "looked for the ball" or not.
On the next play, Manning hit Dan Klecko for an easy 1-yard touchdown, and the 2-point conversion tied the score at 21.
Had the play been called an incomplete pass and Indy forced to attempt (and fail) to convert a third-and-long, maybe momentum doesn't swing so broadly.
Take Me to the Other Side
With the score tied at 28, Troy Brown returned a punt to the Patriots 42, and a vicious facemask -- Dexter Reid tore off a New England player's helmet -- put them at Indy's 43. Three Brady passes and an offensive penalty later, New England had 1st-and-15 on the 18.
Reche Caldwell was split out right, completely uncovered. Incredibly, he whiffed on a perfectly thrown ball. But he got another chance two plays later, after an 8-yard Heath Evans reception left New England with a 3rd-and-7 at the 10.
Like a laser sighting, Brady targeted Caldwell in the end zone and put the ball right on the money. Caldwell was hauled down well before the ball arrived.
There was no flag.
New England had to settle for a field goal and a 31-28 lead, when a touchdown would have put Indianapolis under much greater pressure. The Colts answered with a field goal, and had that made it 35-31, the next few series may have turned out differently.
One team got the benefit of an extremely questionable call, the other was denied. Simply not balanced.
Those weren't the only odd pass interference calls or no-calls.
On the very next Patriots series, thanks to another great return by Hobbs and a 25-yard pass to Daniel Graham, New England was inside the Colt 30. On 2nd-and-10, Brady spotted Graham again, cutting across the middle. Antoine Bethea rode Graham to the ground, making solid contact well before the ball arrived.
There was no flag.
New England should have had a first down around Indy's 20, but they were unable to convert the series and had to settle for a field goal. Worst case, they would have burned more time off the clock; best case, they would have put 7, and coupled with the the touchdown they should have scored after Caldwell was mugged, New England would have led 42-31 with no more than 3:30 left to play.
There was the "wave off," when Wayne tripped over his own feet, but one official -- one who was away from the action -- decided to throw a flag. It was correctly waved off, but you have to wonder what would cause that official throw a flag then, throw one later against Hobbs, but not throw them when Caldwell and Graham were tackled.
Some Calls Were 'Offensive'
Finally (at least in regard to pass interference) there was the offensive pass interference on Troy Brown. That, I can tell you, was not a penalty during the regular season. It wasn't a penalty in the New Orleans at Chicago game, either. Virtually the same play sprung Reggie Bush for his long touchdown, the one where he taunted Bears defenders as he crossed into the end zone.
On that play, the Patriots had converted a 3rd-and-6 and would have been inside the Colt 20. Leading 21-3, New England was all but assured a 24-3 lead, and possibly 28-3. Instead, the Patriots had to punt and the Colts had just enough time to drive for a field goal.
Twenty-one to six vs. twenty-eight to three. Some difference.
The question is how anyone could possibly decide to make that call in a conference championship game, especially when it wasn't a penalty at other times.
For those of you keeping score (and I know you are), that's three pass interference calls against New England with one "picked up," and zero -- that's right zero on Indianapolis.
Left 'Holding' the Bag?
With those huge one-sided calls, there were plenty of "minor" ones. CBS didn't show a lot of replays, but there were several when Addai was able to rip through gaping holes in the Patriots otherwise solid run defense.
Watch the last touchdown. Addai blasts though a huge gap in the center of New England defensive line. Watch No. 65, Ryan Lilja. He has handfuls of white. He nearly tore off (I think it was Mike Wright's) jersey. Sure there was a hole.
Tully Banta-Cain's roughing the passer. Technically, as scsatr pointed out, technically correct. But in the last two minutes of the conference championship? Brady got tackled around his knees and ankles several times after releasing the ball. Technically a penalty -- and not in the last two critical minutes of the conference championship -- but not flags.
When Manning "ran" for his touchdown, a 1-yard dive on third down, one of the officials was marking him short; but after a 10-second discovery process, they determined Manning crossed the goal line. It should have been fourth down.
Replays showed center Jeff Saturday's touchdown was also short of the goal line. The ball was on the ground, Saturday cradled it, and the ball should have been dead immediately. For some reason, it was not. Of course, there was no point in challenging, because there's no chance Bill Corollo would have overturned it.
As has been bantered about in the community comments following my last posting: Yes, every big game is going to have questionable calls. And I agree that, overall, this crew did a pretty decent job, play-to-play.
But there is a problem when all the big questionable calls go against one team and that team has a far larger percentage of questionable penalties called against them.
All I wanted was a fair game, called down the middle with both sides receiving equal consideration. In my opinion, we didn't get that.