NFL officiating increasingly makes the game unwatchable

Austin Hemmingson

ESCANABA — Another week in the NFL, another week of putrid officiating.

Still surprised? I’m not.

Two phantom hands-to-the-face calls on Detroit Lions’ defensive end Trey Flowers cost the Lions the game against the Green Bay Packers Monday night. Each call extended a Packers’ scoring drive in the fourth quarter, which they clearly needed. Even with the phantom calls, the Packers still barely squeaked by the Lions with a last-minute field goal.

Take off your favorite team’s glasses for just a few minutes here, and be willing to admit what we all know: NFL officiating sucks. And something has to be done about it.

Let me just get this out of the way. Yes, the Lions could have done a lot of things to make that game easier on themselves. Settling for five field goals on the road at Lambeau is not a formula for success. Their inability to extend drives late in the game and not convert off three Packers’ turnovers screams same old Lions.

But I’ve already wrote a column about the ineptitude of the Lions this year, and I’m not going to defend them. The fact that this game was this close had more to do with Green Bay’s inconsistencies than the Lions being good. The Lions are not a good football team, but I’m not going to waste any more time piling on a franchise that I honestly don’t care to talk about.

Instead, I’m going to focus on a much larger issue — the officials.

This is not the first time, nor the last we’ll hear about an ‘officiating controversy.’ NFL referees are terrible at their job. I say that knowing how hard their job is, but some of these calls they’re missing I could make with one eye closed, and they’re changing the outcomes of big games.

The Lions-Packers debacle is not the first example this year.

In week two, the guys in the zebra stripes gifted the Bears new life on their final drive after the most ridiculous roughing the passer call on the Broncos I’ve ever seen in my life. That same week, an officiating crew blew a play dead prematurely when the Saints picked up a fumble and appeared to have an easy path to return it for a touchdown against the Rams. That changed the momentum of the game.

By the way, that’s the same officiating crew that allowed the Chiefs to scoop up a loose ball and return it 100 yards for a touchdown against the Lions in the exact same scenario a few weeks later. Talk about inconsistency.

Not to mention the worst call in the history of the NFL last year when the zebras missed a blatant pass interference call against the Rams in the NFC title game. The NFL tried to make amends by putting in a new rule that coaches can challenge interference, but what was the point? So far this season, 20 of 21 challenges over interference-related calls have failed. The rule is a lie — it actually doesn’t exist. There’s proof.

During Sunday’s Cowboys-Jets game, officials threw flags on five straight plays on the game-deciding drive. Three of the calls were so bad Jim Nantz was flustered on live television. I didn’t think that was possible.

NFL refs have thrown 1,376 flags in just six weeks, which is already over 200 more than at this time last year. Are you going to try to tell me they don’t impact games?

Monday night’s awful calls had ESPN’s Booger McFarland ready to come out of the booth. Heck, current and former players from around the league were even chiming in on Twitter, including soft spoken Lions’ legend Barry Sanders.

And maybe the worst part of all of this is the TV networks have so-called ‘officiating experts’ come on during the game and provide the most sorry excuses for the refs. These aren’t experts, they’re apologists.

So, what’s the reason behind this incompetence?

It’s one of two things: either these guys are just that bad at their job — which is really scary to think about — or the NFL is actually rigged. I honestly hope it’s the first reason, because if it’s the second, the game everyone knows and loves becomes unwatchable.

That’s the point we’re at. My interest in the NFL — like the Lions — has been draining for years.

I watch college football. Can you remember the last time a big call in college football decided a game? I’m sure it’s happened, but you have to think a little harder on that one. I’m sure Michigan fans are screaming, ‘J.T. (Barrett) was short,’ in regards to Michigan’s overtime loss at Ohio State in 2016, but I know a local fan who was sitting on the 25-yard line and watched J.T. cross the llne to gain before being pushed back. Regardless, that’s one instance.

The point is, you only see this at the professional level, and pro refs consistently get a pass for their ineptitude. A little slap on the wrist, a fine or a suspension doesn’t change anything. They should lose their job, like anyone else in America who fails to meet job requirements.

If the NFL doesn’t change it, fans will continue to tune out. I already have.