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Dear NFL fans,
Please stop blaming every injustice on the leagues’s referees, who have their troubles, to be sure, but are tasked with a nearly impossible job — overseeing 22 men weighing a collective two tons playing a game that mainly takes place in a 50-square yard area. There are some things they do that deserve anger and scrutiny — the inability to spot a ball, functional mistakes like forgetting downs or winding a clock, calling lame personal fouls on quarterbacks (those plays are usually unobstructed), failing to make the correct call on plays that are right in front of them and, apparently, having an NFL-led vendetta against the New England Patriots, one that took 12 games to present itself and involved New England fumbling punt return through no fault of the refs. (I’m kidding. Patriots fans are more annoying than Adele parodies.)
Bad officiating is part of football. It’s something you have to deal with, like the basketball ref who calls ticky-tack fouls in the middle or the umpire whose strike zone fluctuates more than the S&P 500. These are things we deal with in sports. But this year, and I suspect it’s because the media likes to fixate on one issue per year (player conduct last year, concussions the year before), it’s the officials. Everything is the officials fault. And it’s not.
There should have been no facemask called on Devin Taylor on Thursday night, yet there was a flag, just as the Lions had beaten the Green Bay Packers to stay alive in a wild NFC playoff race. But the flag came out and the replays were shown and all of a sudden this became the most egregious mistake in the history of mankind.
Except that nobody would have remembered the facemask call right now if the Lions could have done what every other NFL team does and simply defended a 61-yard Hail Mary that had no business being caught. Or if Detroit hadn’t blown a 20-0 lead!
It’s like this every week. Pats fans (and, oh man, has Bill Simmons been insufferable) act like the refs pulled a Brutus on them Sunday night while forgetting that if Chris Harper hadn’t muffed a punt early in the fourth quarter, it’d have been New England ball up 21-7. The refs wouldn’t have had a chance to blow the game. That’s why all these mistakes run in tandem. It’s like a football ecosystem.
I mean, look at the Lions defense! Where did they think this pass was going? Three are the guys aren’t even jumping!
The Packers might as well have been camped in the end zone. It was like Shaq posting up Muggsy Bogues. Then you add the Lions players that were sitting around and you realize this wasn’t a failure of officiating, but a failure of a mediocre team that finally saw its good luck run out. (Look at the two guys on the 40!)
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Fine, a Lions fan would say — flipping the script — but there wouldn’t have been a Hail Mary to defend if the refs did their jobs. Okay, sure. But everyone who watched that “penalty” in real time and anyone — ANYONE — who would have been on that field, tasked with watching possible fouls against the quarterback, would have thrown a flag there. A hand was near a facemask, the facemask jolted in the direction of the pulling hand and then the hand let go, looking guilty of something.
Of course, replay would show otherwise — it appears there hadn’t been a penalty. The fingers grazed the facemask and the jolt came from the force of pulling Aaron Rodgers’ jersey. But that’s a nearly impossible call to make. And it wasn’t as close as you think. If there were replay on personal foul calls (God help us), I don’t know if New York would have come back with the ruling to overturn. Even though we all saw what we saw, there wasn’t definitive evidence Taylor didn’t grab Rodgers facemask.
So stop whining, Lions fans and Patriots fans and fans of whatever team thinks the refs have colluded against them on Sunday. Poor officiating is a part of the game, like fumbles, interceptions and the Detroit Lions not making the playoffs. We should be used to this already.