The NFL season has been filled with critical calls from players, coaches, front offices and broadcasters. In Week 6, the officials joined the fray.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ touchdown-turned-touchback sparked a debate about whether it was a good call, a bad rule — or even if it was too close for the suits in New York to overturn no matter what the officiating crew ruled on the football field.
Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, insisted Monday that no matter what viewers think, it wasn’t a difficult decision to overturn the TD.
“No doubt about it. It was clear and obvious,” Riveron said. “We use that for every replay. Unless it is clear and obvious to us, we will not change the ruling on the field. This definitely met that criteria.”
It certainly wasn’t so clear-cut to viewers of the Jets’ 24-17 loss to the Patriots, nor to two men who used to have Riveron’s job, Fox Sports analysts Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, who said the league got it wrong.
Taking a short pass from Josh McCown, Seferian-Jenkins slightly bobbled the ball as he reached over the goal line for what was initially called a touchdown by down judge Patrick Turner.
As all scores are, it was reviewed back in New York, and Riveron said it was determined “we have a fumble” and Seferian-Jenkins “never regains control of the football while contacting inbounds, so in that sense, by rule we have a touchback.”
“We might not agree with the rule,” Riveron said. “We might have situations where we disagree with the rule. But that is the rule. So, the rule was enforced correctly. The ball was put out of bounds by the offensive player across the goal line and went out of bounds in the end zone. So, by rule that is a touchback. New England gets the ball, first-and-10 from the 20-yard line going out.”
Blandino and Pereira agreed there was a fumble, but felt Seferian-Jenkins either regained control in time or that it was too close to overturn the ruling on the field.
“It did look like he regained control and that left knee might have just touched inbounds before he slid out of bounds,” Blandino said. “There were a lot of ifs and mights … and usually that means the call on the field should stand.”
Pereira concurred, saying it appeared to him that Seferian-Jenkins regained control, “but ultimately, I would say if it has to be ‘clear and obvious,’ it just didn’t seem to me that it was.”
Asked what he thought of his predecessors’ assessments, Riveron said, “I really have no comment on that. That’s just their judgment.”
Referee Tony Corrente explained the decision to a pool reporter after the game. Unlike Blandino, who used to quickly explain crucial calls on social media, Riveron didn’t address the issue himself until Monday when the league made him available in a conference call.
“I think Al shares Dean’s commitment that we are out there explaining,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said. “It may not take the exact form that Dean did, but Al is going to be very available going forward.”
Other noteworthy decisions in Week 6 included Packers coach Mike McCarthy handcuffing himself by mishandling his team’s challenges; Raiders coach Jack Del Rio starting Derek Carr two weeks after the quarterback broke a bone in his back; and Al Michaels making an insensitive joke during the Giants’ stunning 23-10 win at Denver.
BAD TASTE: Michaels seemed more like a “Saturday Night Live” host than a “Sunday Night Football” play-by-play man when he made a joke during NBC’s broadcast about Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood movie producer facing numerous allegations of sexual misconduct.
Michaels mused in the middle of the third quarter that the Giants were “coming off a worse week than Harvey Weinstein.” His on-air partner Cris Collinsworth replied with a laugh and told Michaels “only my L.A. guy comes up with that one.”
The comment got a negative reaction on social media and Michaels apologized in the fourth quarter for “being a little flip” with his reference to Weinstein.
PACKERS’ PROBLEMS : Lost in Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone in Minneapolis was McCarthy’s inability to dispute a crucial second-half call in Green Bay’s 23-10 loss to the Vikings because he ran out of challenges before halftime.
McCarthy’s first challenge overturned a 13-yard catch in the second quarter, but he later unsuccessfully challenged a 20-yard completion in which receiver Adam Thielen clearly got a hand and an elbow down inbounds.
NFL rules say a coach has to win two challenges to get a third. So McCarthy couldn’t do anything when Jerick McKinnon clearly used the ground to trap a big third-down catch.
RUSHING THE PASSER : It wasn’t as bad as Sam Bradford’s fruitless return to action a week ago for the Vikings, but Carr clearly wasn’t himself in the Raiders’ 17-16 loss to the Chargers.
After missing one game with a broken bone in his lower back that he suffered against Denver two weeks ago, Carr completed 21 of 30 passes against the Chargers. Almost everything was short, and he ended up with just 171 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions on miscommunications with receivers.
With contributions from AP Pro Football Writers Josh Dubow, Dave Campbell and Dennis Waszak Jr.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton