We’ve had one discussion about officiating in the National Football League this year, back when the Minnesota Vikings came back and were able to defeat the Buffalo Bills despite getting righteously hosed by the officials on a couple of plays. But yesterday, the Vikings completed the biggest comeback in the history of the National Football League. . .and it might not have been necessary had it not been for a couple of egregious errors by referee Tra Blake and his crew.
Strangely enough, both of these plays involved similar situations, with a member of the Indianapolis Colts fumbling the ball into the hands of Vikings’ cornerback Chandon Sullivan, who then waltzed untouched into the end zone for an apparent Minnesota touchdown. In both cases, and for different reasons, the Vikings were denied those touchdowns by Blake’s crew.
The first one came in the second quarter, as Matt Ryan completed a short pass to Michael Pittman Jr., who fumbled while being dragged down by a host of Vikings. Sullivan picked up the football and started toward the end zone, but the play was blown dead with the officials saying that Pittman’s forward progress had been stopped. Unfortunately for the Vikings, forward progress is not a reviewable call, so there was nothing they could do.
Rather than the Vikings getting the scoop-and-score from Sullivan, the Colts punted the ball away and pinned the Vikings inside their own 10-yard line. A couple of plays later, Kirk Cousins threw a pick-six that made the score 30-0 in what could reasonably be dubbed a 14-point swing.
The second one happened in the fourth quarter. Colts’ running back Deon Jackson took a handoff from Ryan and fumbled on a hit by Za’Darius Smith. The ball, again, bounced into the hands of Sullivan, who had a clear path to the end zone for what would have been a potential tying touchdown (two-point conversion attempt pending, of course). In this case, the officials ruled that Jackson was down by contact.
Fortunately for the Vikings, a runner being down by contact is something that can be reviewed, and that review did give the Vikings the football, but they could not be awarded the touchdown they would have gotten, so they took over at their own 46-yard line instead (because Sullivan was so angered by the incompetence of the officiating crew that he got a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for removing his helmet). The ensuing drive resulted in a turnover on downs for the Vikings and what could have, potentially, been the final nail in the coffin of their comeback.
In both of these cases, Blake’s crew blew their whistles way too early, preventing the Vikings from reaping the rewards of what would have been the results of the play had it played out. Those were two potentially game-shifting defensive touchdowns that the Vikings could have had that were negated.
I’m not sure what the NFL teaches the officials about when to blow the whistles on these sorts of plays. When you see handoffs at the goal line, the officials will let teams fight and struggle for what seems like forever before the whistle finally blows, but on plays like the ones we just described from yesterday’s game the whistle seems to go off at the earliest available opportunity. There needs to be some sort of consistency in these situations and, for the most part, the play simply needs to be allowed to play out before it’s blown dead.
Hopefully, this will be the last time we need to talk about officiating and its negative effect on the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that it probably won’t be.