A GRIP ON SPORTS • You want to know what is one of Monday’s favorite pastimes in the Land of the Free? Expressing disdain for the weekend’s football officiating. Most of the time it is just grumbling for grumbling’s sake. Other times? Well, “other times” includes Sunday in New Orleans. Read on.
• The NFL is in a state of shock these days. There was the fiasco that became known as “Deflategate,” and its ensuing long legal battle. There have been protests by the league’s players during pregame anthem ceremonies. And there has been the troubling news concerning the league’s Holy Grail, television ratings.
But maybe the most egregious problem, to borrow a phrase from Stanford grad Richard Sherman, is a lack of trust in the league’s authority figures.
It starts with a certain disdain for commissioner Roger Goodell. His Tom Brady ruling, that seemed to border on a witchhunt, was just the most visible of a series of decisions the players haven’t agreed with. And that contempt has filtered down to the field, where the referees are the visible manifestation of the league office each Sunday.
Players and coaches have always complained, of course. Every game you see them talking with the officials, pleading, arguing, gesturing. That’s a given. Afterward, though, they would button up, using circumspect language in the postgame as they dealt with the media. They left it up to the fans to do their talking.
But that seems to be changing.
Yesterday, the Redskins’ Josh Norman went ballistic concerning some calls in London, where Washington and the Bengals played to a tie. And Cam Newton, in some quarters the face of the league, once again complained about a lack of protection written in the rule book but not enforced while he is playing.
It’s hard to comment on those comments due to a lack of personal knowledge. But it’s easy to have an opinion about what happened in New Orleans yesterday. It was there for everyone in the Northwest to see.
Bottom line, the guys charged with keeping the playing field balanced and fair didn’t do their job. They failed. And it decided the game’s outcome.
Sherman and others in the Hawks lockerroom – and outside of it – will point to a couple of uncalled offensive pass interference penalties as the most glaring of the missed calls. They were. One, in the end zone, probably meant the difference between the touchdown the Saints scored and a field goal. The other, which Fox rules guru – and former Pac-12 officiating advisor – Mike Pereira said Pete Carroll had a legitimate gripe about, helped the Saints burn time off the clock as the game wound down.
But there was another call, a hidden one that Fox never replayed, that might have been the most crucial. And the worst call of the bunch.
It came on Sherman on a third-and-6 during the Saints’ final drive. There was 4 minutes and 48 seconds left to play, the Hawks trailing by two, 22-20.
Snead showed all day he was the Saints’ best downfield blocker, especially while the ball was in the air. His two seemingly illegal picks were the plays mentioned above.
Here, though, he didn’t pick anyone. But he ran a pattern that included running into Sherman, knocking him off balance. Snead then pivoted to the outside. New Orleans’ quarterback Drew Brees found him, but for only a 2-yard gain. The Saints would be forced to punt. The Hawks would receive the ball with plenty of time left, only needing a field goal to leave Louisiana with a win.
Except a flag came out.
When Snead and Sherman had collided, well within the NFL’s legislated zone for such contact, Sherman had grabbed at the receiver as he pivoted away. He was called for defensive holding. New Orleans kept the ball, marched down the field and kicked a field goal with less than 2 minutes left, forcing the Hawks to score a touchdown to win.
For some reason, Fox never showed a replay of Sherman’s penalty. So, thanks to the magic of the DVR, I had to play producer. It was hard to see, but after running the play over and over, I didn’t see Sherman do anything more than what happens on every pass play in the NFL, make contact with a receiver with his hands. Did he impede Snead’s progress? No, not after the initial contact, which Snead initiated. Yes, Sherman was grabbing at Snead as he pivoted, but as far as the camera angle showed, Snead wasn’t held.
And yet the flag, one of 11 accepted penalties on the visitors, appeared. The clock continued to tick, the game rolled on. The Seahawks failed in their comeback attempt.
Afterward, Sherman spoke with reporters.
“We played within the rules and we got called,” he told them. “They played not within the rules and they didn’t get called. What they have one penalty in the game? (in actuality two, both easy-to-see false starts). Some people would say that’s skewed. It looked pretty obvious the way the game was officiated. I don’t think they weren’t trying to hide. Some of the calls — or lack thereof — was pretty egregious. … Even when we are at home we rarely get calls. But at least they don’t tear us apart (as they did on Sunday).”
OK, so it was not with the venom of Norman or Newton, but it was obvious he had no respect for the way the game was adjudicated.
That seems to be the trend these days with the players. Not the anger with the calls, but the willingness to express the anger in a public forum. Which makes it more than Monday morning refereeing.
It makes it another in a series of problems for the NFL.
• WSU: No Monday morning squabbles here, but Jacob Thorpe has a couple of news stories. The Cougars are ranked for the first time this season, entering the Associated Press Top 25 at the final spot. And Saturday’s game time was finally set, with the game with Arizona kicking off at 1 p.m. … The soccer team played to a draw with Oregon on Senior Day.
Elsewhere in Pac-12 football, ESPN.com has its post-weekend power rankings – WSU is second – and its helmet stickers – Luke Falk earned one. … Oregon State will travel to Stanford on Saturday. … Colorado and UCLA will open the week’s games on Thursday night. … USC and Oregon has been one of the conference’s better games for the past decade. This year, not so much. … The Washington pass defense will get its toughest test this Saturday against California in Berkeley. … Utah and Arizona State have byes this weekend.
• EWU: Eastern took the basketball court for the first time, hosting St. Martin’s and former assistant Alex Pribble in an exhibition game. Jim Allen has the story of the 80-69 EWU win. … Around the Big Sky in football, Montana is glad it doesn't have to face Cooper Kupp again. … North Dakota's pass rush has fueled its unbeaten Big Sky run. … Next up for the Eagles is red-hot Cal Poly.
• Whitworth: The men’s soccer team clinched the NWC title and a postseason berth.
• Preps: We can pass along a roundup of Washington cross country action from Saturday’s regionals.
• Seahawks: Yes, the officiating seemed skewed, making it tough for the defense to shut down New Orleans. But that doesn’t give the Hawk offense a free pass. The group is still struggling, whether it is due to offensive line problems, an inability to run or Russell Wilson’s lack of mobility. Take your pick. … Jimmy Graham had a quiet Sunday.
• Sounders: One Seattle professional sports team had its way with an opponent yesterday. The Sounders, underdogs to Western Conference champion and regular-season points leader FC Dallas, scored three goals in an 8-minute span and won 3-0 in the first leg of a two-game semifinal series. Talk about putting themselves in the driver’s seat. … The L.A. Galaxy won its series opener 1-0 over Colorado in Los Angeles.
• There is just something about World Series games. They are different even than the Super Bowl or NBA Finals. Maybe it’s the history. Or the investment of the fans. Whatever, last night’s 3-2 Chicago win seemed special. Especially after it was over and the Cub faithful stayed in their seats and sang on and on and on. Amazing. Until later …
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