The NFL says it grades officials on every play and assigns postseason games on merit. The perception of that modus operandi took a big hit this week, when it was announced that Jeff Triplette would be the referee for Sunday's wild-card game between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Triplette's assignment was confounding because while he may have graded out acceptably on a play-by-play basis, his high-profile blunders were notable and numerous even in a season that has been pretty rough for all the zebras. Triplette's crew blew the down and the clock management late in the New York Giants' 24-17 win over the Washington Redskins on Dec. 1, and the very next week, he and his replay official mangled a scoring play by Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis that should not have been a touchdown.
As a result of Triplette's general ineptitude, current NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino has been taking extra time on the NFL Network to try to explain exactly what Triplette was doing. That seems necessary as Triplette appears unable to explain it himself. And it's not just a couple of outlier calls -- Triplette has a long history of being in over his head.
Former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira, now a rules analyst for FOX Sports, told FOX's Curt Menefee this week that Triplette's postseason graduation seemed odd to him as well. Pereira pointed out that while the league no longer advances full officiating crews to the playoffs, at least three members of each regular-season crew will work together now.
"I am surprised, and I say that especially in Cincinnati, because if you look at Jeff Triplette, you go back to Week 13 -- his crew was the crew that lost track of the down in the New York Giants-Washington game," Pereira recalled. "And then you go to this play [the Green-Ellis play] with Cincinnati -- I mean, this was a play that was ruled short and down short of the goal line. They reversed it to a touchdown, and did not look at the contact that occurred at the five-yard line. Yet, Triplette still has Cincinnati in the wild-card [round]? And he has the same replay official that's going to accompany him to this game? That, to me, doesn't make sense, and I wouldn't have assigned it that way."
When Blandino was explaining the missed illegal formation penalty in the Week 17 game between the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs that helped San Diego into the tournament (a call blown by Bill Leavy's crew, not Triplette's), he tried to insist that such mistakes stick with the officials in question.
"Officials are evaluated just like players are, and this type of a mistake sticks with this official," Blandino told the NFL Network on Dec. 31. "It will affect any potential postseason assignment, so we take all these things into consideration." As Menefee pointed out to Pereira, there were so many overall officiating mistakes this season, it's actually feasible to believe that Triplette and his crew graded higher than several others. Which is an interesting example of the Peter Principle in action. We can only wait to see if Triplette bungles yet another key call in a playoff game where every little thing means even more. It seems inexcusable that a league which trumpets its own accountability at every turn would so cavalierly put a repeat offender in charge of an elimination game -- and if there's another "Triplette-esque" incident, the league risks serious questions about its own transparency, and its ability to manage its product.