We now have a new poster-child example for the notion that the league shouldn’t be picking and choosing which plays should be fixable via replay.

By Don Banks
October 06, 2015

I’m not sure he was even awake for it, but Bill Belichick somehow managed to notch another big win late Monday night, even though his Patriots took their bye in Week 4 and didn’t even play.

The bottom-line takeaway from the NFL’s latest officiating debacle in Seattle is as crystal clear as the last one (see “Fail Mary”), even if Park Avenue is loath to admit it: The Hoodie is right, yet again. The league needs to make all plays subject to replay reviews in real time, while mistakes can still be corrected, and stop the charade of adding to the list of reviewable plays in a piecemeal, reactive fashion only after another obviously blown call has occurred and made a mockery of things.

That's what Belichick, and others, have been in favor of for quite some time. I know, it’s painful for the league office to swallow anything too Patriot-centric these days, but swallow it they must. Just open up, and down it goes.

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Getting the calls right while the game is still going on should be the league’s only goal here, and you could easily file this all under the heading of one of those vaunted integrity of the game issues that commissioner Roger Goodell cares so deeply about. Or are there still sections of the rule book that are more important than others?

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The Lions got jobbed Monday night in Seattle, and that much isn’t open for debate. NFL director of officiating Dean Blandino has already admitted the illegal batting non-call that turned on a subjective judgment by back judge Gregory Wilson doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, or remotely pass the eyeball test.

But the league has put Wilson in position to be the sole arbiter of K.J. Wright’s intent by limiting the scope of reviewable plays, and that kind of powerful subjectivity has to end. Because the replay made it clear that it was as overt an act as an act can be on Wright’s behalf, and Wright said just that in the postgame, that he has been coached to bat the ball out of bounds on such plays.

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But alas, once again the postgame does the winless Lions no good. The replay system was introduced to correct egregious officiating errors that help decide games. And we now have a new poster-child example for the notion that the league shouldn’t be picking and choosing which plays—and which calls—should be fixable via replay. It’s simple: Any play and any call should have the possibility of being reviewed and corrected.

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What am I missing here, except a fair amount of sleep as yet another egg-on-their-face moment unfolds for the NFL late into a Monday night in Seattle, where any NFC North team should obviously fear to tread?

You can bet the league will expand its list of reviewable plays next spring to include instances of the illegal batting rule, because that’s how this sausage-is-made rule book process has evolved with the NFL’s competition committee. First there’s a glaring officiating screw-up in a highly publicized setting, followed by a league-issued apology to the team that got hosed, and then eventually there’s some updating done to the list of reviewable plays the following off-season.

But it’s like updating the dictionary. It’s work that never ends. The league would be far wiser and avoid these “Oops, we did it again’’ moments if it just acknowledged that there will always be exceptions and change the system so that there are no exceptions. All plays can be reviewed and all mistakes potentially corrected. It’s still up to head coaches to use their two challenges per game wisely, but it’s also far better for league replay officials to get involved and be able to clean up any blown call or obvious misjudgment before it’s too late to fix.

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The one-by-one approach of adding plays to what can be reviewed isn’t working. At least not well enough. Go big, NFL. It’s what you do in almost every other case, so why not here, where it matters most? Replay was created to get it right. Let the system do just that. Across the board. Upon further review, and after another black eye for the league’s officiating department, Bill Belichick’s call should stand.

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