How do you not throw a flag there?
The only thing that fans of all sports can agree on is that the refs stink. It doesn’t matter that they go through rigorous training and spend years proving their worth at the lower levels of the game before moving up to the big leagues. They stink!
Nobody pays attention when officials get calls right, only when they get them wrong. And on Monday night, the crew working the Eagles-Seahawks game got one very, very wrong.
Late in the first half, Eagles center Jason Kelce sent a snap whizzing past Carson Wentz’s head. By the time Wentz regained control of the ball, he was 24 yards behind the line of scrimmage with Carlos Dunlap breathing down his neck. Dunlap managed to clip Wentz’s ankles as he desperately tried to throw the ball away, now 29 yards behind the line. The ball went out of bounds three yards short of the line of scrimmage.
That’s as clear-cut as intentional grounding gets. Since there was no receiver in the area, the ball has to get back to the line of scrimmage to avoid an intentional grounding call. There’s even an official standing two yards from where the guy on the Seattle sideline caught the ball. And yet, no flag!
There are plenty of bad calls in the NFL every week, but this one has to rank among the worst, simply because it was so obvious. Things like pass interference, roughing the passer and holding are judgment calls. Intentional grounding can be a judgement call, too, if it’s debatable whether the quarterback was outside the tackle box or whether a receiver was close enough to be considered “in the area.” There’s no room for interpretation here. The throw was significantly shy of the line of scrimmage, and right under the nose of an official. It should have been an easy call.
The call was so bad that even the usually reserved Peter King said it could be considered a fireable offense.
The NFL has a helpful guide explaining what each of the seven on-field officials are responsible for, and it makes it a little easier to explain why this particular call would have been missed. Intentional grounding calls are the responsibility of the referee, in this case Brad Allen. Allen, a longtime college ref who’s been an NFL crew chief since 2014, is supposed to “shadow” the quarterback as he drops back. Because of the bad snap, by the time Wentz gets rid of the ball, Allen is nearly 40 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It must have been impossible to see from all the way back there whether the ball crossed the line of scrimmage.
The official in place where the ball ended up is the down judge, Danny Short. His responsibility on pass plays is to look for pass interference, so he wasn’t watching Wentz scramble around the backfield. But there’s nothing stopping Short from throwing a flag and conferring with Allen to see whether the crew chief had any problem with an intentional grounding call. There’s also nothing stopping Allen from asking Short whether the ball got back to the line of scrimmage.
The blown call ended up being a big break for the Eagles. If there had been a flag there for intentional grounding, it would have put Philadelphia in a second-and-39 situation that would have totally killed the drive. Instead, the Eagles were able to march down the field and score their first touchdown of the game. They still lost, though, 23–17, and now sit in third place in the NFC East.
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