NFL officials throw wild one, give instant replay black eye

Commentary

October 10, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

Maybe it's time to listen to Brian Billick and throw the NFL's ridiculously flawed instant-replay system out with the bathwater.

I'm guessing that anyone who saw the inexplicable interpretation of the supposed fumble by Joey Harrington that led to the Detroit Lions' second touchdown yesterday is going to agree.

Wait a minute. Did I say inexplicable? Obviously, it wasn't inexplicable because an NFL official rushed to explain it to CBS broadcasters Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker just as referee Mike Carey was upholding a ruling that flew in the face of all visual and video evidence.

Harrington not only intentionally threw the ball forward, but he also should have been called for intentional grounding since he was still in the pocket and there was no eligible receiver anywhere near the play ... until the ball dribbled all the way to Lions running back Kevin Jones, whose body language confirmed what everyone except a couple of officials could clearly see.

Jones had to be told by someone on the Lions' sideline to run with the ball after he picked it up. He eventually was brought down at the 2-yard line after several Ravens stood and watched him jog toward the end zone.

Carey ruled after the review that the ball came loose in Harrington's hand before his arm started forward. The replays, clear from multiple angles, showed that Harrington was trying to throw the ball away and it slipped out of his hand as he attempted to do so. He was not touched by a defender until after the ball was long gone.

To their credit, the announcers did not buy the official explanation any more than Billick.

"Who are you going to believe?" one of them said, "Mike Carey or your lying eyes?"

The replay system was intended to make it possible to reverse a poor call, not to buy the officials time to come up with a plausible excuse for making it. If that's what it has come to, let's go back to the good old days when we didn't have to wait through a commercial break to come up with the wrong answer.

Of course, that controversy was a distant memory by the time the Ravens completed an emotional meltdown in the second half and proved that - if nothing else - they've got a number of players who could use a refresher course in self-control.

The most unforgivable lapse of judgment was the silly unsportsmanlike-conduct call on tackle Maake Kemoeatu that gave the Lions a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line after an inspiring goal-line stand by the Ravens' defense, but there was plenty of embarrassment to go around.

Sour grapes dept: I always find it rather curious when the officials call a bunch of meaningless penalties against the winning team at the end of the game. The Ravens, at one point, had been called for 21 penalties and the Lions for just three before several calls in the final minutes narrowed the gap in penalty frequency and yardage. The CBS broadcast crew noticed it, too, so maybe I'm not just whining.

The Ravens' train wreck notwithstanding, yesterday was couch-potato heaven. I nearly wore out the remote going from the Ravens/Redskins doubleheader to the baseball playoffs to the overtime duel between Tiger Woods and John Daly in the American Express Championship. There was also a NASCAR race, but I'm trying to quit.

The slightly fossilized Vinny Testaverde made his first start since making an emergency return to the New York Jets and quickly hit Laveranues Coles for 31 yards for his first official completion.

If you're keeping score at home, the Ravens entered yesterday's game with just one pass play longer than that this year - a 32-yard pass from Anthony Wright to Derrick Mason in the second quarter of last week's victory over the Jets.

More observations from the sofa: You would figure that the St. Louis Cardinals were crowded around their television sets rooting unabashedly for the wild-card Houston Astros during yesterday's marathon Game 4 of the National League Division Series at Minute Maid Park, since the Cardinals dominated the season series between the NL Central rivals (11-6). But a lot of those victories came early in the season - well before the Astros turned their season around - so there was some sentiment in St. Louis that the Braves would be the opponent of choice.

Favorite recent headline from The Onion, the Internet's best source of funny news: "Antonio Alfonseca once again leads major league relievers in fingers."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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