Making the tough calls
Officials didn't help Pats survive scare from Ravens
Posted: Tuesday December 4, 2007 2:51PM; Updated: Wednesday December 5, 2007 12:39PM
It's just after noon here in the East, and everyone's still abuzz around the league and the nation about the Monday night game. I've had five people at Starbucks and my gym this morning asking about last night's controversial 27-24 Pats' win, and I've just talked to people in the know about the officials' key decisions in last night's game. Let's go over the four fourth-quarter calls, one by one.
New England ball, fourth-and-1, Baltimore 30, 1:48 left, Baltimore up 24-20. At the last second before the snap, Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan calls timeout. The play went on, with Baltimore stuffing Tom Brady for a loss and, theoretically, that should have been New England's last gasp. One problem. Only the head coach is supposed to be able to call time on the sidelines. But in this case, the league has interpreted the rule on a last-millisecond timeout call that the side official cannot be responsible for seeing whether it's the head coach or another coach who calls time. So it's technically legal for Ryan to have called the timeout, and the league's point is the head coach is responsible for controlling his bench. In this case, Brian Billick has to be responsible for his sideline, and when Ryan calls time, the burden is on Billick to accept the call because it happened on the Baltimore sideline.
New England ball, fourth-and-5, Baltimore 13, 55 seconds left, Baltimore up 24-20. Brady retreats to pass. From the right side of the line, tight end Ben Watson runs downfield into the end zone, with nickel back Jamaine Winborne riding him tightly downfield. Once Watson gets past the 8-yard line, it's illegal for Winborne to have anything but incidental contact with Watson, but he clearly has an arm on him well past the 8, and all the way into the end zone. Maybe the call should have been holding, maybe the call should have been illegal contact, but it was a legitimate call, not a ticky-tack one. Winborne impeded Watson's path. The back judge, Billy Smith, called holding, a five-yard penalty and automatic first down. I would have called illegal contact, but both penalties have the same impact, which is to give the Patriots a first-and-goal at the Baltimore 8. Great guts by Smith to make a call in that atmosphere.
New England ball, first-and-goal, Baltimore 8, 50 seconds left. Brady throws to the left corner of the end zone for Jabar Gaffney, who catches the ball in front of his body with both hands while getting both feet down. During the time he gets both feet down, Gaffney moves the ball in front of him but never takes either gloved hand off the ball and never juggles the ball. It is ruled a touchdown, and there is a booth review ordered by replay official Dale Hamer. The play is reviewed by ref Walt Anderson and confirmed. Let's remember what replay is: It's to be used to overturn a call only if there is indisputable visual evidence that the call is wrong. There's no way you can look at this play -- and I've seen it 10 times, in slow-motion -- and say there's clear evidence he didn't have control of the ball.
Baltimore ball, second-and-10, Baltimore 45, eight seconds left. Kyle Boller throws a Hail Mary to the 3-yard line, and, in the middle of the scrum, Baltimore wideout Derrick Mason puts his hands on Patriot cornerback Asante Samuel's shoulders and pulls Samuel down. Mark Clayton makes the catch and is tackled at the three. There is no flag. Big mistake. There certainly should have been offensive pass interference ... but even if that was the call, it would not have changed the outcome. Because the clock expired, and the game can end on an offensive penalty, the game would have been over without the Ravens having another chance to score.
That's about as heart-stopping an ending as any game can have. The Patriots might be lucky to be 12-0 right now, but none of the vital calls in the final minute of the game incorrectly helped them win.