After historically horrible day, NFL referees are ready to screw up Super Bowl

Alex Reimer
January 21, 2019 - 12:05 pm

The Patriots are returning to the Super Bowl to take on the Rams on the same day their dynasty started 17 years ago. We will spend the next two weeks breaking down every facet of this matchup and making plenty of connections to history. But recent history tells us the people who might make the biggest impact on Super Bowl LIII won’t be wearing the Rams’ sweet blue-and-yellow throwbacks or sporting the “Elvis” decal anywhere on their bodies. They will be in stripes, ready to blow their whistles, or not blow their whistles, at the most inopportune and consequential times. 

The NFL’s horrific officiating reached its nadir during Championship Sunday, with the missed pass interference call on Nickell Robey-Coleman probably costing the Saints their second ever Super Bowl appearance. The play was so egregious, even Hulk Hogan mocked the referees for swallowing their whistles.

On New Orleans’ first possession in overtime, the officials made an apparent make-up pass interference call on tight end Dan Arnold, but it didn't matter. Brees threw an interception two plays later, setting up Los Angeles’ game-winning field goal. After the game, Sean Payton rightfully admitted the Saints may never be able to get over the officiating error. Instead of first down on the LA nine-yard line, New Orleans was forced to kick a 31-yard field goal. Yes, Payton erred in calling two passing plays, which gave Jared Goff enough time to engineer a game-tying field goal drive. But Robey-Coleman assaulted Tommy LeeLewis. Head coaching mistakes don’t bail out the officials for their incompetence, or lack of accountability. Referee Bill Vinovich told the press he had not watched the play before his media availability, so he couldn’t comment on it specifically. 

Fortunately, Patriots-Chiefs wasn’t tainted with gross zebra malfeasance, but there were plenty of unconscionable errors –– and I'm not talking about the overturn on Julian Edelman’s muffed punt, which was the right call. The worst penalty of the day was the roughing-the-passer call on Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones, who innocuously slapped Tom Brady’s shoulder as he threw the ball on 2nd-and-7 in the fourth quarter. Jones was flagged 15 yards, giving the Patriots a first down. Sony Michel ran the ball into the end zone to cap off the drive, putting the Patriots ahead.

On the next Chiefs’ drive, once again in apparent search of a makeup call, the officials flagged cornerback J.C. Jackson for a questionable pass interference call on Sammy Watkins that advanced KC to New England territory. Two plays later, they also missed a pick play, which opened up Watkins to catch a 38-yard pass from Patrick Mahomes. Running back Damien Williams followed with a touchdown run. 

The habit of making bad calls, and then trying to mitigate the damage with additional bad calls, is the football definition of insanity. There is no consistency to most of these penalties, especially pass interference, and that is the league's greatest problem.

They have two weeks to correct it. The odds aren’t great.