The Wild-Card Mailbag

The Detroit-Dallas game shined a spotlight on a penalty loophole the NFL needs to close. Plus answering reader questions about how playoff refs get assigned, the reality of postseason expansion and whether Tony Romo got too much credit
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A lot of sentiment from readers came in Monday about the officiating in the fourth quarter of the Dallas-Detroit game Sunday. So let’s start with this email from Steve in Peoria, Ariz:

I’m shocked that you glossed over the biggest issue in the fourth quarter of the DET-DAL game. The pass interference no-call is the kind of issue that always will be a judgment call. Obviously it was handled poorly by Pete Morelli and his crew, but in the end it was still just a no-call when PI could have (and probably should have) been called. Even frustrated fans can live with that. 

But what is absolutely inexcusable is the no-call for unsportsmanlike conduct on Dez Bryant, for coming onto the field, helmetless, to dispute a call. There’s no gray area here—a player not involved in a play ran 15 yards onto the field to get in an official’s face and argue a call. And it’s not as if this was Joseph Randle or some other semi-anonymous offensive player for the Cowboys who could have been confused with a defensive player who might have had his helmet knocked off away from the play—this was Dez Bryant! All seven officials working that game should face serious sanctions for missing what would have been a game-changing call that had to be made.

Hmmmm. "Glossed over?'' I said Bryant should have been penalized for the event, and penalized 15 yards for it. Is that glossing over? Not sure burning him at the stake, or forfeiting the game to Detroit, would really be fair.

It Didn't Decide The Game

The MMQB’s Greg Bedard tells Lions fans it's time to accept the truth: The non-call was probably correct, and even if it wasn't, Detroit didn't do enough to beat the Cowboys anyway.


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Now: Dean Blandino clarified the Bryant play Monday, telling NFL Network and Mike Florio that it's up to the judgment of the officials if a player who comes off the sidelines helmetless should be penalized. If a player on the field takes his helmet off after a play, he is to be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. If a player comes off the sideline without his helmet, Blandino said the officials have a choice: If the player argues and is belligerent, he should be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. If he argues mildly or does something else, that is up to the officials' discretion. 

Either way, it sounds like a loophole the NFL should close. If a player flies out on the field to protest a call and doesn't have his helmet on, the NFL should make a rule: He's penalized 15 yards or he isn't. Don't leave it up to officials to make up interpretations of rules themselves.

Now onto the rest of your emails...

SENSELESS REF RULE. What is the NFL's rationale for having "all-star" individual officials work the playoffs, instead of the best crews? Is it simply to reward the best individual officials? I can't think of any other reason for the league's approach. Why not just grade the crews over the course of the season, and have the four best crews work the first two playoff weekends, the two best work the championship games, and the best work the Super Bowl?

—Srikanth, New York City

That’s a good question, and I think it is a smart question. Because I agree. When the NFL did its last collective bargaining agreement with the officials, the union wanted more officials to be able to work in the postseason. That’s why there are so many different officials working playoff games, and that’s where some of these problems come in. I agree with you: Crews work together during the season for five months, beginning in early August with preseason games and continuing through the four months of the regular season. Blandino has emphasized with his men the importance of communication and chemistry on crews. Then all of that gets blown up in the postseason. For instance, Peter Morelli, the referee who worked the Detroit-Dallas game, had no one from his in-season crew on the wild-card crew. I don’t understand the logic that says this is good for the game.

MORE PLAYOFFS PLEASE. Peter, while I appreciate your resistance to change, those added playoff games would have provided plenty of intrigue. A struggling Peyton Manning against J.J. Watt, one of the best pass rushers in a generation! In the other, the possible return of Nick Foles brings a totally different complexion to an Eagles team that looked like a Super Bowl contender before his injury. I like the 12-team format, but I have no real issue with what could have been two more fun games.

—Steve D., Toronto

2014 In Review

The 2014 MMQB awardsThe NFL season through the eyes of SI photographersHow all 32 teams finished compared to preseason predictionsThe NFL’s best and worst business decisions of 2014Amid NFL turmoil, 2014 was a good year for the BillsThe MMQB’s media awards

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There is no question that two extra playoff teams could lead to some fun games. But why stop at 14 playoff teams? Why not 16, or 18, or 20? The point is simple here. I am for the sanctity of the regular season in all sports. I’m not even a big fan of a 12-team playoff field, but I have accepted it. You play for four months, and I believe the regular season should have significant influence in determining who plays in January. There is no magic number of playoff teams that would either be right or wrong. But this year I’d say that the quality of games on wild-card weekend overall was poor. Arizona limped towards the playoffs and was not a good team by the time January rolled around. The Bengals weren’t very good either. That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t have made it. It is only to say that if you want quality games at this time of year it makes no sense to add teams that, for instance, lost three out of four to end the regular season. Philadelphia did not deserve to be in the playoffs. Rewarding them by simply expanding the field, to me, is a bad thing for the meaning of regular-season football.

VOTE WITH YOUR REMOTE. Peter, you mentioned it is inevitable that there will be an additional two playoff games added to the current 12, and your Twitter poll showed that about 88% of the people are against it. While I would have voted No as well, I think a follow-up question should be how many people would watch the additional game. I bet at least 88% would say they'd watch. That's why the owners won't listen, because we will still watch the games.

—Brian, Coral Springs, Fla.

We would watch the games if there was a 24-team playoff field. But it's just not smart to add two mediocre teams to the playoffs for a league that preaches quality. I say no, but the NFL will say yes.

PLAY PALMER. Considering that Carson Palmer’s ‘brittleness’ (as you called it) makes him so undependable, why doesn’t Arizona make him its No. 2 QB and go all out in the off-season to get what they think might be the best starting QB?

—Stephen C., Tucson, Ariz.

If you’re paying a quarterback solid starter money, and the Cardinals are doing that with Palmer, I think you have to let him play, and then go out and buttress the position with the best depth that you can find.

SAME OL’ ROMO? I know the attention is on Tony Romo shedding his image, but don't you think Matthew Stafford had just as good a game? I like Romo. I hope he wins a Super Bowl someday. But watching that entire game and rewinding critical moments of it, Romo seemed to revert to his old self a few times, particularly when he was sacked. Of the six sacks by Detroit, Romo was directly responsible for three of them by not getting rid of the ball when his protection was decent. You could argue a fourth sack was also his fault as everyone in the stadium knew a blitz was coming yet Romo didn't dump off to a wide-open Witten. What say you?

—Patrick B., Fancy Gap, Va.

There is no question that at least two of Romo’s sacks were terrible to take. One weakness of Romo is that he tries to extend plays too long and ends up hurting his team’s field position. So I fault him for those. Other than that, against a voracious Detroit rush, Romo had zero turnovers, an excellent rating, threw no ill-advised passes that I saw and completed a vitally important fourth-and-6 pass to Jason Witten with six minutes to go, extending a drive that led to the winning touchdown. I liked what I saw out of Romo in this game. That’s not demeaning Stafford, either, who I thought played well. But I think particularly with all of the pressure that Romo has on his shoulders being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, he performed at a very high level in one of the biggest games of his career.

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