Football is a hilariously complicated sport. The NFL rulebook is seemingly made of sand, and even the most simple plays are dressed in a rickety scaffolding of conditional guidelines and amendments. Last year, no one knew what a catch was. This season, the league can’t seem to get roughing the passer straight.
In an attempt to address this, the league re-litigates a selection of close calls each week and posts a short, explanatory video about it to Twitter. The intentions are good, as the NFL wants to clarify the Sunday stew of flags and whistles, but the videos are more effective at highlighting the league’s inherit absurdity. America’s biggest sport desperately wants you to know it is not making things up as it goes along. The evidence is not entirely convincing.
Senior Vice President of Officiating Al Riveron narrates the weekly clips, and they pack all the verve and excitement of a Driver’s Ed newsreel. This week’s video, posted on Friday, features a trio of examples where referees got roughing the passer calls correct, notable inclusions given the complaints from players, coaches, and fans about the rule during the start of the season. The video also includes an admission that officials got a big call wrong during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game between the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders (2:37 in the video below).
What the NFL’s Twitter video doesn’t show is Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi picking up the ball with a clear route to the end zone. The play likely would have resulted in a touchdown, but it was whistled dead. Oakland eventually won in overtime, 45-42.
Anyone who watched the game knew immediately that Oakland quarterback Derek Carr fumbled. The referee, however, whistled the play dead. “We rule the passer stopped for forward progress and we kill the play,” Riveron says in the video. “This is not forward progress. Obviously, this is a fumble. We should not have blown the whistle.” The play on the field was not eligible for video review, a fact the NFL wants us to keep in mind as we watch a clear video review of the play released five days after the fact.
The Browns were on the wrong side of an even more consequential call later in the fourth quarter, when a bad spot essentially robbed them of the win, but that play was not included in the weekly video review. Earlier this week, the NFL announced its officials got that spot correct, and, according to ESPN, the league said “Riveron pieced together the ruling by looking at evidence from two different views of the play.” If only the league had some sort of weekly video review to broadcast those critical camera angles.