San Francisco 49ers: Referees Finally Held Accountable for Mistakes


The NFL is finally holding the officials from the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals game, but are they really punishing them?

The San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals were involved in a great game on Sunday. The game featured the NFC West’s best team, the 8-2 Cardinals, and the bottom team, the 3-7 49ers, but the two teams battled evenly, and late in the fourth quarter, they were deadlocked at 13. On the third-to-last possession of the game, the Cardinals had the ball, and were able to drive down the field to score the game-winning touchdown in the final three minutes of the game. The way they got there, however, was more than a little controversial.

In the middle of the possession, Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked by 49ers’ lineman Quinton Dial. But instead of third down and 18 yards to go, a penalty, assessed against Dial for roughing the passer, gave the Cardinals a first down.

The sack on Palmer looked like a textbook tackle. He didn’t aim for Palmer’s helmet, and he didn’t go low towards Palmer’s knees. Dial did make minimal contact with Palmer’s helmet, but that came from the quarterback ducking his head a split second before he was hit. If anything, there was incidental, unavoidable contact between the two players’ helmets. The penalty stood, though.

Later in the drive, on a play that would set up the Cardinals’ game-winning score, the play clock hit zero well before the snap. However, there was no flag on the play, and Palmer dropped back and threw an absolute beautiful pass to receiver J.J. Nelson, who was stopped at the one-yard line.

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There were other missed calls throughout the game, including an extra play given when an “illegal touching” penalty should have resulted in a fourth down, and some really ticky-tack pass interference calls in the endzone. Of course, let’s not forget the five-minute delay in the first quarter when the referees deliberated amongst each other because no one knew what down it was. Overall, it was an extremely rough day for the officials in the game, led by head ref Pete Morelli.

Multiple football people took to Twitter to air their grievances on the disputable roughing the passer call. Former Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis, who knows a thing or two about tackling, called the penalty “a pure embarrassment to the league”, and that it was a “perfect hit on the QB”. NFL Network anchor James Koh called it “literally text book tackling”. Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan said the hit was “no where near a personal foul”.

Even former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira, whose job was to basically defend the decisions made by these refs, said the best call, in this case, should have “no call“.

After the game, individuals from both sides spoke their minds. Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians said “they were struggling, mightily. I mean, they can’t count to three”. 49ers’ wide receiver Anquan Boldin felt the 49ers “were playing two teams today”. 49ers’ guard Alex Boone got straight to the point, saying “I thought the refs sucked”.

There weren’t just bad calls in the 49ers-Cardinals game. There were questionable calls all around the league, just as there are about every week. In the Sunday night game, a questionable defensive holding call against the New England Patriots led to a late touchdown for the Denver Broncos to give them the lead. That’s just one other example of the constant incompetence of NFL officials.

The NFL took some sort of action on Tuesday, as the league pulled Morelli’s crew from their original assignment in week 13, Sunday Night Football, and moved them to a different, less high-profile game. This is a start, but instead of actually addressing the issue, the NFL is more sweeping it under the rug, hoping that less people see it. The crew will still be on the field on Sunday, being given a chance to ruin the game for another set of people watching. The league isn’t fixing anything, they’re just diminishing it.

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It would be understandable if the referees missed a call, or made a bad one, every once in a while, maybe every few weeks. That happens in every sport: baseball; basketball; hockey; and, of course, football. It would also, maybe, be possible to overlook bad calls that came in, say, the second quarter that doesn’t necessarily impact the outcome of the game. These officials are human, after all.

When these blatant mistakes happen continually, on a game-by-game basis, and multiple times a game, something is wrong and needs to be fixed. When those “human errors” potentially change the outcome of a game, there should be consequences. Real consequences.

Steps have been taken in the college ranks to address those kinds of errors. On November 1st, the ACC suspended the officiating crew from the October 31st Duke Blue Devils and Miami Hurricanes game, after the crew made a game-changing error. On the final play of the game, an eight-lateral touchdown by Miami gave the Hurricanes a 30-27 upset win over the 22nd-ranked Blue Devils. On that play, a Miami player’s knee was down before he pitched the ball away, which should have ended the game right there and sealed a win for Duke. Even after reviewing the play, the referees didn’t get the call right, and the Conference acted swiftly to punish them for costing a team the game.

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The NFL should take a lesson from college ranks and start to actually discipline their referees for repeated, or game-changing mistakes. The product the league is putting out there is getting harder to watch, as the people who aren’t playing the game are the ones deciding the outcome. Instead of just sitting on their hands, making excuses, and switching assignments, Roger Goodell and Dean Blandino need to do something to fix this. Suspensions need to happen. Maybe while they’re at it, they can figure out what a catch is, as well.

It’s like the replacement refs all over again, only this time, there are no reinforcements on the horizon.