Bad calls not always black, white

December 16, 2008|By Bill Ordine and Edward Lee | Bill Ordine and Edward Lee and,bill.ordine@baltsun.com and edward.lee@baltsun.com

For the second time this season, a heartbreaking Ravens loss was decided, in part, by a controversial call by an official, and enraged and confused Baltimore fans are facing the same harsh reality

They just have to deal with it.

And instant replay? Even with the benefit of electronic 20-20 hindsight - as was the case in the 13-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday - NFL officiating is still being called into question.

But before Ravens followers take too personally what happened in the game against the Steelers, and also in a 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans this season when the Ravens were hit with a questionable personal foul, they should understand that fans of the San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and, yes, even Pittsburgh backers have had to swallow similarly bitter medicine at some point this season.

Debatable calls - even some that are flat-out wrong - remain a fact of life in the NFL this season.

"The fact of the matter is and the reality of it is my opinion doesn't mean anything," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said yesterday when asked about referee Walt Coleman's ruling Sunday that Pittsburgh wide receiver Santonio Holmes had scored a touchdown after the referee reviewed replays of the last-minute catch.

NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira supported Coleman's opinion.

"He sees the same thing that Walt Coleman sees," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail.

"It's our responsibility to take care of the Baltimore Ravens," Harbaugh said, "and it's Mike Pereira's job to make sure that we have quality officiating in the NFL, and it's Walt Coleman's job to make sure the game is officiated correctly and that replays are handled the way they're supposed to be handled. ... We've got to do a great job of making sure that we make the plays that we need to make to win a game like that."

Sunday's controversial play is still fresh. Holmes, feet in the Ravens' end zone and stretched at a 60-degree angle, reached and caught the football approaching the invisible vertical plane of the goal line. The initial official's call put the ball inside the 1-yard line, but an instant replay review and decision by Coleman awarded the Steelers a touchdown and the lead with 43 seconds remaining.

But there's more.

* On Oct. 5, the Ravens lost,13-10, to Tennessee, again on an 11th-hour touchdown. This time on a third-and-10 play in the fourth quarter, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins threw an incomplete pass, but the winning drive was kept alive when the Ravens' Terrell Suggs was called for roughing the passer for hitting Collins in the helmet. Not only did replays seem to show that not to be the case (or at most, it was a glancing touch), but Tennessee also had been whistled for a false start. However, the referee said the players did not hear the whistle, the action continued and the personal foul superseded the false start.

* In September, Denver beat San Diego, 39-38, but the Chargers lost out on recovering a Broncos fumble when referee Ed Hochuli incorrectly ruled that Denver quarterback Jay Cutler's fumble was an incomplete pass. Although replay showed that the play was a fumble, the whistle had blown. The Broncos went on to score the winning points. Hochuli apologized, and the league said his officiating grade would be marked down.

* Hochuli or his crew were in the middle of two more controversial calls. In a Carolina-Atlanta game, Hochuli's ruling that Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers had roughed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan erased a Carolina interception return for a touchdown. But replays appeared to show Peppers making contact as Ryan released the ball and the defender leading with his shoulder. And in a New Orleans-Minnesota game, Saints running back Reggie Bush was the apparent victim of a face-mask before a fumble that was recovered by the Vikings. The penalty was not called. Neither the Peppers roughing call nor the Bush facemask noncall were reviewable plays.

* A call that that did not decide a game but did affect millions of dollars in bets went against the Steelers when Pittsburgh defeated San Diego, 11-10. Near the end of the game, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu appeared to recover a wayward lateral and return it for a touchdown. The touchdown would not have changed the outcome of the game, but it would have meant that the Steelers covered the point spread. However, the score was wiped out when officials mistakenly ruled the lateral an illegal forward pass.

What Sunday's Ravens loss proved once again is that the fine lines that decide an NFL official's decision can be so razor-thin that even instant replay might not provide evidence on which there can be universal agreement. All of which led Harbaugh to conclude that the best course is to not allow officiating to even be a factor.

"Our guys are men," he said yesterday. "They're strong guys, and they realize that it's our job not to put the officials in a situation to have to make that call. If we do our job better and finish in crunch time, it won't even be an issue. That's the way we look at it as a football team. We don't need the officials' help to win a football game. That's what good football teams do."

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