There's a problem with instant replay. Again. I might have a solution.
Two ridiculous things happened Sunday with instant replay, one with the new system that has the men in the replay booth looking at every scoring play upstairs; if there's reason to have the ref go under the replay hood on the field, the replay official signals down to the field the same way he'd signal down to the ref in the final two minutes of a half that a play should be under review. On Sunday, the system showed two very big flaws.
In Buffalo, on the final play of the Bills' 38-35 win over Oakland, Raider quarterback Jason Campbell threw a Hail Mary into the end zone. Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy leapt with Oakland receiver Denarius Moore to get it; Searcy came down with it, apparently, with Moore clutching at it as they fell to the field. The officials on the field ruled it a Buffalo interception, correctly, and the two teams left the field.
Somehow, as the teams filed into the locker rooms and the officials prepared to leave the field too, replay official Al Jury mistakenly signaled referee Mike Carey to look at the final play under the hood. In at least one of the locker rooms, Buffalo's, an official ran in to tell the Bills to return to the field -- saying the game might not be over. Bills coach Chan Gailey told me he didn't make his players go back out. "The game was over one way or the other,'' Gailey said. "Either the interception stands and we win, or they rule it's a catch for Oakland, and they win. Made no sense for us to go back out there.''
Back on the field, to a 90-percent empty stadium a couple of minutes later, Carey announced the call on the field had been upheld.
In New Orleans, the final score of the Saints' 30-13 victory over Chicago came on a Darren Sproles 12-yard touchdown catch. He ran down the right sideline and appeared to step out of bounds at the two-yard line with his right foot. Watching the game in the NBC viewing room, we waited and waited ... and no call from replay official Bill Spyskma to ref Walt Coleman. The Saints kicked the extra point, and the insurance touchdown counted, bizarrely. Now, it could be that Coleman wouldn't have found indisputable visual evidence that Sproles' foot was on the white boundary -- though I don't see how -- but Coleman never got the chance. After the game, I heard Spyskma actually tried to signal down to the field, but the communications system failed.
So in one case a call that should never have been called down for review was, and in another case, a call that should have been reviewed wasn't.
As my NBC partner Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com said Sunday night, there's a danger here of the replay official having too much power. He's supposed to buzz down to the field when there's reasonable doubt about the on-field call on the scoring play. What is reasonable doubt? And shouldn't the buzz-down happen where there's remote doubt? The officials are under pressure to keep games moving; the NFL wants games played in as close to three hours as possible. But no official, either in the booth or on the field, wants to get a play wrong, or wants to signal down to the ref that a lock play should be reviewed.
There were all sort of technical snafus when the coaching challenge first came into play with replay reviews, leading to the rudimentary system of a coach throwing a red flag on the field when he wants to review an eligible play. My suggestion is that the league goes back to something rudimentary. Put a pair of lights, one red and one green, outside the replay booth in the 31 NFL stadiums. On a scoring play, the replay official would have two ways to signal down to the field -- by signaling the referee the way it currently is done, and by illuminating the green light outside the replay booth; that would mean a replay review was needed. If no review was needed, the replay official would illuminate the red light.
I know, I know -- it's getting too complicated. But the point is, the system worked wrong twice Sunday. One of the non-reviews would likely have resulted in a reversal. If there's a replay system in play, the league needs to do everything it can to be sure the public can trust it works the way it's supposed to.
Something's happening here ... What it is ain't exactly clear ...
The Detroit Lions have won 10 games in a row. Well, only six of them count. Four, shown below in italics, come from the 2011 preseason. But you can look it up: The Lions have not lost since Dec. 5 of last season, when Drew Stanton, now the third-string quarterback for Detroit, lost a fourth-quarter lead to Jay Cutler in Detroit and the Bears won, 24-20. Check out the Lions scores over the last nine months, beginning with the kayoing of the 2010-season Super Bowl champs-to-be at Ford Field:
Detroit 7, Green Bay 3
Detroit 23, Tampa Bay 20
Detroit 34, Miami 27
Detroit 20, Minnesota 13
Detroit 34, Cincinnati 3
Detroit 30, Cleveland 28
Detroit 34, New England 10
Detroit 16, Buffalo 6
Detroit 27, Tampa Bay 20
Detroit 48, Kansas City 3
I have no pithy conclusion to this. The Lions are a threat as long as Matthew Stafford stays upright. They suffocated the suddenly pathetic Chiefs Sunday at Ford Field, raising hopes of an awakened fan base. As long as I'm on the schedule page, look at what they have before their bye: at Minnesota, at Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, at Denver. The Lions could build up a legitimate head of steam, which they'll need once Thanksgiving rolls around. Starting then, Detroit has Green Bay (twice), New Orleans and Oakland on the road and the Chargers at home.
I am dreaming of a Lion Christmas. You never know.
Five quick takes:
1. Ben Roethlisberger is okay. "Anytime your knee gets rolled up it's very scary,'' Roethlisberger said last night, recalling Raheem Brock falling into his lower right leg and caving it in during the first half of the Steelers' win over Seattle. "But the good thing was I didn't feel anything pop. And the doctors examined it and moved the knee around and everything was stable.'' Look for Roethlisberger to miss no time and be ready to play next Sunday at Indianapolis -- albeit with some knee swelling or soreness.
2. The roof is caving in on the Chiefs. Has there been a playoff team in recent history (ever?) that's had the kind of player losses (tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry, and now running back Jamaal Charles with a suspected torn ACL, to be confirmed by an MRI today) and the on-field losses of these Chiefs? In two games, they've been outscored 89-10. Yes, 89-10. I don't see any way they come back from this, particularly this week, with a game at San Diego. It's only a matter of time before questions start piling up about the jobs of president and GM Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley. Though I suspect owner Clark Hunt will give Pioli at least one more coach to hire; Hunt and Pioli are close.
3. My takeaway from Atlanta 35, Vick-free Philly 31. Interesting, really, that Michael Vick went down in a collision with his own right tackle, Todd Herremans, while staying in the pocket, not fleeing it. This was a frenetic game, captured well by our Don Banks' story from the Georgia Dome posted early this morning. The Eagles will follow league protocol with the concussion Vick suffered, and so we'll have to see if he'll make the start Sunday in Philly's home opener against the beloved Giants. If not, at least Philly confirmed what Andy Reid has been saying about backup Mike "Don't Call Me Franz'' Kafka: He can play a little bit. For the Falcons, there couldn't have been a better jolt of good feeling about Matt Ryan and in Matt Ryan. His toughness was on display Sunday night; he took three (that I counted) near-kill shots by a potent Eagle rush. And he responded to the pressure of dueling Vick with a four-touchdown-pass performance. All in all, a good night for my predicted Super Bowl winner.
4. Mike Munchak has some good sense about him -- not that it's going to make Chris Johnson fantasy owners very happy. Munchak's first NFL coaching victory was a sign of things to come, I believe. Chris Johnson rushed 24 times for 53 yards Sunday, and rather than continue to beat his head against the turf with something that wasn't working, Munchak (and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer) used Javon Ringer (who rushed for a touchdown) and the arm of Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for an uncharacteristic 358 yards on Baltimore. "This is how we have to play,'' Munchak said. "We have to be balanced. We have to win games in a lot of ways, not just with Chris.'' Good philosophy, as long as Hasselbeck can stay healthy and wings it the way he did Sunday.
5. Does anyone have any idea how valuable Charles Woodson is to Green Bay? He played a phenomenal game Sunday, one of those games where you realize how vital a great cornerback is to a defense. With Cam Newton looking to extend a 13-7 lead late in the second quarter, Newton trusted his freakishly strong arm and threw a pea 30 yards down the right sideline for Steve Smith. Woodson zipped in front of Smith at the last second and plucked it out of the air. On the first Panther series of the third quarter, Woodson made a more impressive pick, again in front of Smith, catching a line drive on the edge of his fingertips; watching the replay, it's hard to imagine how Woodson held on.
"The thing you've got to do in that case is make sure you don't jump the route too early,'' Woodson said last night. "He [Newton] has a strong arm. Very accurate. He's not afraid to put the ball anywhere. When you go for it, you have to be careful you don't run into the receiver and get an interference call.'' There can't be anyone better at it than Woodson. He turns 35 in October. He's playing like he's 25.