Challenging penalties? No thank you

Folding calls and non-calls into replay is just another step toward the abyss

Mike Schopp
January 22, 2019 - 11:00 am

Photo: John David Mercer - USA TODAY Sports


Nickell Robey-Coleman on Sunday reminded me of Trey Teague.

Not because I was in a game of "name a former Bill" that lasted for hours until Teague was mentioned, although I wouldn't be surprised (or insulted) if you thought that.

Instead, it's a Buffalo Bills play from 2004 -- a play that technically didn't even count -- that comes to mind when I hear a discussion of whether penalties in NFL games ought to be available for coaches to challenge.

Of course, that's where we're at now, in 2019, after Robey-Coleman's blatant pass interference (and helmet-to-helmet hit but never mind that for now) went uncalled. A penalty almost certainly would have put the New Orleans Saints, and not the Los Angeles Rams, into the Super Bowl.

Back to Teague: The 2004 Bills were streaking toward a playoff berth and were facing the 2-9 Miami Dolphins in a December game. The game started fast. Terrence McGee ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Miami quickly answered. The Bills had the ball with 5:08 left in the first quarter and the game was already 14-14.

It was 2nd-and-14. I've looked up the play-by-play for confirmation of what happened, but I'm going to have to rely on my memory for a description of the play. The play sheet says "Drew Bledsoe to Willis McGahee for 66 yards", negated by a holding penalty against Teague. The way I remember it, the play was a screen pass to the left flat, and Teague, the center, was called for holding even though he didn't do much to deserve it. This play stuck in my mind because I thought, at the time, what makes this event any less worthy of a replay review than any other play? This was a 66-yard gain negated by a phantom call; plays that get reviewed are often far less important.

Why review eight-yard completions to see if the receiver made the catch, and not this? Worse, why review a ball spot where the difference can be a matter of inches, and not plays like this?

Obviously the Robey-Coleman play was of massive importance, yet football has no mechanism for it to be reviewed.



Sorry to yell.

I never wanted plays like The Teague Play (all rights reserved) to be reviewable. I think by 2004, I might have been done with instant replay altogether.

It doesn't work.

Too many reviews leave you unclear as to whether the proper call got made anyway. Each TV network now employs former officials who often can't make their mind up, or, worse, disagree with the ruling ultimately made. The idea of replay is to correct mistakes. But they're not really doing that, and penalties called (or not called) mistakenly happen numerous times in every game. We willingly ignore that while holding replay up as some necessary tool to ensure fairness.

Get over yourselves. There is no "fairness" like that. The AFC Championship between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs was equally close and compelling. They reviewed (at length) whether a player touched a bouncing punt. Replays seemed inconclusive, yet the call was overturned anyway. Then we had a roughing-the-passer penalty against the Chiefs that was nothing but a swipe to the quarterback's chest. Kansas City would have won but for an offside penalty that negated a game-clinching interception; the player was offside, but the Patriots lineman across from him was lined up off the line of scrimmage, and that penalty went unnoticed (or probably just uncalled).

You take football's results seriously at your own peril. You won't get a "fair" outcome, and you have to live with that. Best not to worry about it. No amount or degree of technology will ever change this. We have an insane ability to hone in on these calls now and they do as much to confuse the issue as to clarify it. Twice in the AFC game, New England's Chris Hogan "caught" passes that touched the ground. Replays confirmed this. But on one, it was determined that he had control first, and on the other they didn't. This is all b---s---. You don't get clarity from these replays and ensuing reviews, you go crazy. Never mind the time wasted in the process, or the garble you get from the game broadcasters in their classic dodgeball efforts to avoid the simple truth of what nonsense it all is.

Reviewing penalties is merely the logical next step in this process. It always was, it just took, predictably, a high-profile play like Robey-Coleman's to make the issue mainstream. People in the game will want it after seeing this obvious injustice, but they won't see the big picture. They never do.

The unfortunate reality for sports -- or just the reality -- is that you can't fix every injustice.

It's time to stop trying to.

It's the Patriots and Rams whether we like it or not, or whether it's "fair" or not. This is, of course, their second Super Bowl meeting. The first was 17 years ago, and it marked the beginning of New England's incredible dynastic run.

Fans know well that the Pats seemed to have lost their first playoff game that year but were bailed out by an obscure rule that no one seemed aware of until after it was invoked: the "tuck rule". It turned a common-sense fumble into an incomplete pass, and the rest is history still unfolding.

Charles Woodson of the Oakland Raiders was the player that knocked the ball free from Tom Brady that night in the Foxboro snow. Just as I think of Teague for the reason I do, I think of Woodson all the time for having struck Brady on the helmet on this play -- a "penalty" that went uncalled and forever forgotten. Woodson himself may have forgotten it (or, less likely, never realized it), as he himself was tweeting about fairness last Sunday, using himself and his Raiders as a forever victim of a bad call.

If we could challenge penalties, Woodson's hit to Brady's helmet would have been challenged, and the Patriots not only would have kept possession that night, they would have been 15 yards closer to scoring. (If any team would have noticed and challenged the play, believe me, it would be the Patriots.)

Is this what we want? Penalties challenged? Players line up a fraction offside all the time. Want to look them up? How about movement by offensive players? What constitutes a false start? It isn't movement that does, it's movement that's detected. There's a difference. Anyway, want to challenge all that?

Oh, you just want to challenge "big" penalties? If pass interference goes uncalled in the first quarter, why is that any less worthy?

My plea: GIVE IT UP. Replay doesn't work, as evidenced by the chorus of scrutiny and grousing about calls that's no less deafening than it was before replay came into being. Justice is out of reach, to stay.

Maybe if we can accept and embrace that, we can enjoy these games a little bit more.

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