November 28, 2021

Bucs Life

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The Rules of Confusion

4 min read

Oct 23, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; NFL referees during the second half of a football game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I wanted to write this article immediately following the week 8 loss in New Orleans. I wanted to scream and rant about how the officials handed the game to the Saints.

Instead, I took a little time to breathe, then to punish myself further by watching the game again. This time with a helpful copy of the NFL rule book. While I was vindicated in my assessment of the officials, they called 9 of the 11 penalties against the Bucs, as per the rule book. What vindicated me was the complete refusal to acknowledge those rules when the Saints were the ones to be penalized.

The only 2 occasions that New Orleans drew laundry were for 2 very obvious false start infractions. Even then, the flags came with seeming reluctance. Of the 11 penalties that were drawn by Tampa Bay, 2 were entirely fictitious. However, that doesn’t excuse the 9 that we’re legitimate and came to the rescue of the Saints offense with unforgivable regularity.

The disgust at seeing so many obvious penalties ignored led me to a revelation. Whilst reading the official NFL rules I realized, if the officials did a perfect job, games would take close to 12 hours to complete due to multiple penalties on nearly every single play.

The perfect example of this occurred during that game. As Jameis Winston scrambled to his left, Bucs linebacker Devin White grabbed hold of a piece of jersey and held on until he brought Winston down. In an awful turn of events, Jameis would leave the game due to a knee injury and is not expected to return this season. As the flags came flying Buccaneers fans were outraged as it seemed the officials were going to help out the home team with a friendly roughing the passer call.

Instead, the assist came in the form of the rarely seen “horse collar” penalty. When I say rare, the horse collar penalty was called a total of 22 times in 2020. That was in all 269 games! Interesting to note that the Bucs jointly lead the league with 2 such penalties.

This call drew even more outrage. It was definite evidence that the referees were cheating to help New Orleans. The video replay clearly showed that Devin White was correct as he remonstrated with the officials that he had grabbed Winston by the sleeve of the jersey. We all saw it, not once did White’s hand go inside the back of Winston’s pads. It was a completely bogus call that rescued a struggling Saints offense.

Except, it actually was a textbook horse collar, at least according to the official’s interpretation of the NFL rule book. The rule very clearly states that:

“Tackling another player by grabbing the inside of an opponent’s shoulder pads or jersey from behind and immediately yanking the player down.”

Well, this is awkward. Until it isn’t!

Remember how rare this penalty is? In an NFL game, there is just an 8% chance that you will see this penalty called. This is where the illusion of the NFL rule book is shattered. With the definition above in mind, rewatch that play and see how the officials interpreted the contact between White and Winston, illegal.

Now watch another NFL for as long as this rule is in place and wonder why that penalty isn’t called 10 times more than it is.

The problem is that the rule book is far too open to interpretation, and that leads to errors and bias. It is a simple fact of the human condition that errors are made, judgments and justification, even bias and prejudice. When rules can be so selectively interpreted and enforced, it leads to a performance like the world witnessed in NOLA. When even the announcers are making fun of the obviously biased way the game was being called.

I have no doubt that in some form, the performance of the officials will be assessed by the NFLRA. However, I also have no doubts that nothing will be done about it. While they have zero accountability, they have zero incentive to change.

Fans of all 32 teams are affected by this, and it isn’t hard to become concerned by the motives behind how certain games are called. For now, the system remains in place and fans will continue to ride the roller coaster until more defined rules are put in place for certain actions. This week was the Buccaneers turn to feel the wrath of the stripes, who will fall into the crosshairs in week 9?