There's no other way to slice it -- this has been a bad year for NFL officials. Every week, VP of Officiating Dean Blandino has to go on the NFL Network and explain how another ref's crew (usually the one run by Jeff Triplette) botched another call. That said, there has to be a winner for Worst Call of the Season even when there are more entrants than usual, and we might have found the winner in Sunday's game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts.
With 4:05 left in the first quarter, the Colts had the ball with 3rd-and-6 at the Kansas City 36-yard line. Andrew Luck threw a quick pass to running back Trent Richardson, and Richardson was pulled down by Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson after a four-yard gain. It would have been the end of Indianapolis' drive but for the fact that Tony Corrente's crew called Johnson for a horse-collar tackle.
As you can see in the pictures above and below, this certainly doesn't look like a horse-collar tackle. From the 2013 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 15):
No player shall grab the inside collar of the back or the side of the shoulder pads or jersey pads or jersey, and pull the runner toward the ground. This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket.
Note: It is not necessary for a player to pull the runner completely to the ground in order for the act to be illegal. If his knees are buckled by the action, it is a foul, even if the runner is not pulled completely to the ground.
Now, it's clear that Johnson pulls Richardson down by his right shoulder pad, but any contact to the collar was minimal, at best. The official who threw the flag was on the sideline, and I'd really like to know what view he had.
CBS' Dan Dierdorf didn't like the call at first, and then ... well, this happened.
"Trent Richardson looks like he's gonna get the first down, and that certainly doesn't look like a horse-collar. It looks to ... well, wait a minute. On that angle, he may have his hand inside his shoulder pad. When I first looked at that, I thought he had nothing but shoulder pad on the outside, but he may ... did ... you're right. At that angle, it looked like [Johnson's hand] might have slipped inside the shoulder pad, and that's what you're really not allowed to do. To pull the ballcarrier backwards like that."
Well, OK. As Dierdorf correctly pointed out, it's a judgment call, and not subject to review. The Colts got a first down at the Kansas City 17-yard line, and though they ended that drive with an unsuccessful Adam Vinatieri field goal, they were the beneficiaries of perhaps the worst call of the 2013 NFL season.
At least, the worst call so far. We still have the rest of Week 16, all of Week 17, and the entire postseason for the zebras to mess things up even more spectacularly.