NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Willie Young #79 of the Detroit Lions causes Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints to fumble the ball in the second quarter during their 2012 NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Just how bad were the officials in Saturday's game between the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints? On one of the biggest plays of the game, they managed to screw over both teams by completely blowing the call. The errors were so egregious that the NFL came out on Sunday and admitted that mistakes were made.
To be specific since there were several questionable calls, I'm referring to the fumble that was forced by Willie Young in the second quarter. Drew Brees lost the ball after being hit by Young, and Justin Durant picked it up for the Lions. He would have easily scored a touchdown, except one official blew his whistle. Another ruled the play a fumble, which was the correct call. Because of the inadvertent whistle, however, the play was stopped and no return was allowed.
As it turns out, the referees not only botched the call by blowing the whistle and preventing a return, but they also applied the rule incorrectly after the initial mistake was made. Here's the explanation from the NFL (via Pro Football Talk):
"Referee Tony Corrente ruled the play was a fumble and a recovery by Detroit," the league said in a statement emailed Sunday night to PFT. "However, during the play and before Detroit recovered the fumble, another official blew the whistle believing it was an incomplete pass. Because the ruling on the field was a fumble, and the whistle came before the recovery, the play is dead because of the inadvertent whistle and the Saints should have retained possession of the ball. New Orleans would then have had the choice to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to replay the down. Inadvertent whistles are not reviewable."
This rule was correctly applied in Sunday's Steelers/Broncos game after the referees made yet another mistake, and Denver got screwed as a result. The rule itself is pretty dumb, and it's a good thing for the Lions that the referees botched the handling of it on Saturday. Had their incompetence prevented the Lions from even getting the ball, I would have blown a gasket.
Of course, it shouldn't have come to that in the first place. If not for the inadvertent whistle, the Lions likely would have had a touchdown return to go up 21-7. There's no telling how the rest of the game would have played out, but the Lions' chances of winning would have gone drastically up.
The worst part of it all is that it's not just the Lions drawing the short end of the stick with the refs. I know seemingly every week the Lions get screwed, but there were some horrendous calls in every game this past weekend. If this is the best the NFL has to offer, then there is a serious problem with the state of the referees, because they are downright awful. Until the NFL actually does something to improve the officiating, chances are there will continue to be more bad calls in key moments, and the game of football is going to suffer as a result.