One of the stranger developments from the Minnesota Vikings' 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns at the Metrodome on Sunday came courtesy of the officiating crew led by Bill Leavy. . .a crew that is no stranger to controversy, even this season.
Late in the second quarter of the game, Minnesota Vikings' punter Jeff Locke punted the ball away to Cleveland's Travis Benjamin. Benjamin completely misplayed the ball, putting it on the turf, where it was recovered by Vikings' special teamer Larry Dean. Dean cruised into the end zone for what looked to, potentially, be a Minnesota touchdown, but the officials ruled that Benjamin had muffed the catch rather than fumbling the ball after taking possession. Because it was a muff and not a fumble, the Vikings couldn't advance it, and were set to take over at the Cleveland 26-yard line with first-and-ten.
As it could have made a huge difference in the game, Leslie Frazier wanted a review of whether or not Benjamin did, in fact, have possession of the ball before he coughed it up. That would have made it a fumble and given Minnesota a special teams touchdown that would have made the score 24-21 in favor of Cleveland. However, Frazier throwing the flag was a violation of the "Jim Schwartz rule," named after the Detroit Lions head coach after he made a similar mistake in one of last year's Thanksgiving Day games. The play was not reviewable by rule, so Frazier's attempting to do so constituted a delay of game.
The error by Frazier should have resulted in the loss of a time out for the Vikings and nothing more. Instead, Leavy's crew penalized the Vikings fifteen yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the ball back to the Cleveland 41-yard line and giving the Vikings a first-and-25 situation. The Vikings wound up gaining 16 yards to get back to the Cleveland 25, where Blair Walsh kicked a 43-yard field goal to make the score 24-17.
Leavy's crew was also involved in controversy in Week 1, as they worked the game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. In that game, Clay Matthews hit Colin Kaepernick ridiculously late and out of bounds, resulting in a personal foul penalty. Niners offensive tackle Joe Staley came in and mixed it up with Matthews (a fracas that included Matthews throwing a punch, which I thought was supposed to be an automatic ejection), and Leavy's crew called offsetting penalties on Matthews and Staley. You can read the whole story of the incident here. . .the bottom line being that Leavy's crew completely screwed up everything about that particular call and, as a result, got "downgraded" by the officiating powers that be in the NFL. They apparently had some other questionable calls in that one as well.
Being "downgraded" hurts an official's chances of working the post-season and the Super Bowl. The officiating crews are judged throughout the year, with the best crews getting the opportunity to work the playoffs. At this rate, it doesn't sound like Leavy's crew should start making plans for January, but I'm guessing that's of little consolation to the teams that get hosed in these situations. Unfortunately, that's all the league does about it for now.
Would getting the call right in this case have made a difference in the ultimate outcome of the game? Maybe. . .maybe not. Nobody knows for sure. But, it's a story that's out there, regardless. On the other hand, somebody probably should have told Coach Frazier. . .or Coach Frazier should have just known. . .that particular call was not a reviewable one, and then there would be no controversy in the first place.