By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL is great at many things. Admitting fault is not one of them.
It’s telling, then, that instead of circling the wagons and defending the actions of an NFL official, veteran referee Walt Anderson has left the league with no choice — not after a bumbling, blundering, bungling of a trainwreck performance on Monday night — but to state in plain terms that he was very, very wrong.
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, always defends his officials, even when their mistakes are obvious. Yet Anderson and his crew were so bad, so inept on Monday night, that Blandino was left with no choice. He tweeted during the game that they missed an obvious unnecessary roughness penalty, and he admitted after the game that the officiating crew was responsible for the delay of game penalty on Buffalo that followed.
In case you didn’t catch the situation in question, here’s a brief recap:
1. On a 53-yard field-goal attempt with 3 seconds left in the first half, Richard Sherman broke across the line of scrimmage early, getting an unabated path to the kicker.
2. The officials did not blow the play dead.
3. Sherman made a beeline for kicker Dan Carpenter and made a dive shoulder-first into Carpenter’s plant (left) leg at the knee.
4. Carpenter went down in pain, albeit while grabbing his right knee, thus drawing the trainers off the sidelines to tend to him.
5. Anderson enforced an offsides penalty on Sherman and announced that because the trainers tended to Carpenter, he had to leave the game for one play.
6. After a delay in which Rex Ryan chewed out Anderson, the Bills smartly ran a play to spike the ball. They left a second on the clock.
7. The Buffalo field goal unit took the field, but the officials took a long time to spot the ball, and an official was still standing at the line of scrimmage to clear players from the center as zero seconds remained on the play clock.
8. Buffalo snapped the ball, and Carpenter’s kick was successful. However, the play was blown dead due to delay of game, even though the officials were responsible for the infraction.
9. On the kick that counted, Carpenter’s kick missed wide right.
It turned out to be fairly important, too, as the field goal that Carpenter successfully kicked should have made the score 28-20 in favor of Seattle. The Bills ended up losing by six points, but they were well into field-goal range late in the fourth quarter. Theoretically, had the game progressed in the parallel universe with competent referees as it did in the real world with Anderson’s crew, the game likely would have headed to overtime.
Anderson explained after the game that despite seeing a cornerback dive directly into a kicker’s planted leg, he didn’t see any contact that warranted a penalty.
“I just didn’t feel like the actions and the contact, because we were shutting the play down, warranted a foul,” said Anderson. “That’s what we’re looking at. Does the contact rise to the level where we feel like it was clearly avoidable, and rose to the level of a personal foul?”
The whole world watching thought yes, indeed, it warranted a personal foul, and unfortunately for Anderson, his boss did too.
(Later in the game, Bills receiver Robert Woods was penalized 15 yards for “taunting,” even though Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane tried to knock the football out of Woods’ hands as the receiver held it out to signal a first down. The staredown and drop of a football by Woods was deemed by the officials to be egregious enough to warrant a 15-year penalty, but an untouched cornerback dive-bombing into the plant leg of a kicker on a play that should have been blown dead did not warrant a flag.)
This being New England, it’s a prerequisite that Anderson cannot be discussed without referencing his role on the fateful evening of Jan. 18, 2015, a night better known for being the date of the famed DeflateGate game. And as a brief reminder, Anderson had been warned ahead of time about the Colts’ concerns about football funny business. Anderson nevertheless failed to record pregame measurements of the PSI and then promptly lost all the footballs. He also apparently forgot to put his initials on the kicking ball
According to very-legitimate, supremely independent investigator Ted Wells, Anderson was very upset during the 90 seconds during which he did not know where the footballs were, which seems hard to believe when you consider it would take, say, 45 seconds at minimum to even notice the footballs were missing, and then another, say, 45 seconds to try to find them. There’s not a whole lot of time to really work oneself up into a lather, but the honorable Ted Wells said that’s what happened.
And in that long, droning Wells report, Anderson’s recollection was viewed as unassailable by Ted Wells and the investigation team. Unimpeachable.
Here’s Ted Wells’ letter of admiration for Anderson (from page 47 of his report, emphasis mine):
Anderson is one of the most well-respected referees in the NFL. It is obvious that he approaches his responsibilities with a high level of professionalism and integrity. He is thoroughly familiar with the Playing Rules and the Referee Manual, and is widely recognized as exceedingly meticulous, diligent and careful. Multiple witnesses noted that Anderson is one of the few referees who personally tests the inflation levels of game balls prior to the game, rather than delegating that responsibility to another member of his officiating crew.
And more, from page 52:
We credit Anderson’s recollection of the pre-game measurements taken on the day of the AFC Championship Game based on both the level of confidence Anderson expressed in his recollection and the consistency of his recollection with information provided by each of the Patriots and Colts regarding their target inflation levels.
Clearly, Anderson’s recollection was regarded as impeccable … except for the one thing that the NFL needed him to forget. The NFL needed Anderson to have used what came to be known as the “non-logo gauge” even though he specifically recalled using the “logo gauge.” If he had indeed used the “logo gauge,” as he recalled, then the NFL had no case against the Patriots. Use of the “non-logo gauge” kept the NFL with at least a scientifically tenuous case against the Patriots.
So, according to the NFL, Anderson forgot that one thing but perfectly remembered everything else. This is the guy in whose basket the NFL put all of its eggs.
And now this is the guy whom even the NFL can’t defend any longer.
As far as recent prime-time games in Seattle go, this controversial flub still can’t crack the top two. Last year, officials missed a clear and obvious illegal bat in the end zone which, if called correctly by the official staring directly at the play, would have all but guaranteed a Lions victory. Instead, the Seahawks won. And of course, several years ago during the replacement ref era, there was the famed “Fail Mary” ending.
While the missed unnecessary roughness penalty on Sherman and the botched work with the play clock two plays later may not trump those two recent officiating failures in Seattle, it is still a glaring example of how confidence in NFL referees and officials may have reached an all-time low.
Even the man who’s paid to defend the officiating can’t do it anymore.