Officiating at the centre NFL's Week 13 spotlight
While college football fans debate the merits of keeping unbeaten Florida State out of the playoffs because of a key injury and disqualifying Georgia following the Bulldogs' first loss in 728 days, the NFL can preen over a postseason bracket that's determined on the field itself.
By the players and the coaches.
OK, sometimes by the officials, too.
An NFL season chock full of erratic enforcement of the rule book reached bedrock in Week 13, which kicked off with Dallas' 41-35 win over Seattle in a rare Thursday night shootout that featured a phalanx of flags to go with its plethora of points.
Sunday's pair of marquee afternoon attractions featured crucial calls and non-calls alike as the two teams with the league's longest active winning streaks both lost.
In Houston, the Texans had a scoop-and-score wiped off by a quick whistle in their crucial 22-17 win over the Broncos, but they also got away with an obvious pass interference that denied Denver an early touchdown that could have changed the tenor of the game — and might ultimately help extend the Broncos' long playoff drought.
In Philadelphia, the 49ers' 42-19 shellacking of the Eagles was marred by several late flags and one strange sideline squabble that resulted in the ejections of a San Francisco player and the Eagles' security chief, who acted like a bouncer out in public when he got between the two players involved in a heat-of-the-moment altercation.
The wacky weekend wrapped up with an obvious but unflagged pass interference by Packers cornerback Carrington Valentine that denied former Green Bay receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling a deep catch in the final seconds.
Patrick Mahomes followed with a Hail Mary into the end zone where safety Jonathan Owens shoved tight end Travis Kelce just as he jumped for the ball that fell incomplete, leaving Green Bay the victor in a 27-19 classic that shook up both the AFC and NFC playoff pictures.
“The first 59 minutes were really well-officiated, in my opinion; we lost something in the end,” NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay said, suggesting Brad Allen's crew blew it by swallowing their whistles at the end.
“You simply can't play through the receiver's back before the ball gets there " said McAulay, who also suggested a rare flag should have been thrown on the Hail Mary as time expired.
"When you have a two-handed shove in the back, it's overt,” McAulay said.
Mahomes wasn't about to take any shots at the officials when asked about no penalty being called on the pass to Valdes-Scantling.
“Obviously, the guy was probably a little early, but at the end of the game, they’re letting guys play. I’m kind of about that," Mahomes said. "I’d rather you let the guys play and let the guys win it on the field. But it’s a hard job, man. We’re in that situation, I can’t be wanting a flag, I have to try and go out there and win the game myself and with the rest of my teammates.”
Kelce echoed Mahomes.
“I ain’t gonna blame this thing,” he said, “on anybody but ourselves, man.”
Green Bay (6-6) jumped into the NFC playoff fray in the seventh and final spot and Kansas City (8-4) fell a game behind Baltimore and Miami in the AFC.
Although the Chiefs' schedule is soft the rest of the way, this rearrangement raises the specter of Mahomes finally having to hit the road for the playoffs after playing his first 11 AFC postseason games at Arrowhead Stadium, where he's 9-2 with two trips to the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks and Cowboys were the two most penalized teams in the league leading up to their Thursday night game and they lived up to that billing. Seattle was flagged 10 times for 130 yards and Dallas lost 127 yards on nine penalties.
Including six that were declined, 25 flags were thrown in the first 40 minutes of the game, two of which were picked up after the officials huddled.
With referee Clete Blakeman getting so much air time explaining all the fouls, Al Michaels had the quote of the weekend with about five minutes left in the third quarter when he quipped, “We're going to take the rest of the night off and let Clete Blakeman call the game.”
To that point Blakeman's crew had stepped off 17 penalties for 217 yards, just seven shy of the high penalty-yardage total for a game this season, a mark that was eclipsed soon enough.
Eagles chief security officer Dom DiSandro may be a celebrated tough guy in Philly, but he drew the ire of San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan after his altercation with Dre Greenlaw resulted in the 49ers linebacker getting ejected from the team's crucial win at Philadelphia.
“I tried my hardest not to lose my mind,” Shanahan said. “I just can’t believe someone not involved in the football game can taunt our players like that and put their hands in our guy's face. From what I was told, Dre did it back to him. He kind of mashed him in the face a little bit, so he got ejected.”
Greenlaw put his hand in the face of DiSandro, who oversees all safety and security matters for Eagles players, coaches and executives and is a staple on the Philly sports scene — where he’s often protecting Eagles as they mingle at 76ers or Phillies games or other public appearances.
DiSandro pulled Greenlaw off Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith after a catch in the third quarter. Greenlaw popped up and reached over two officials to touch DiSandro’s face with a closed fist.
Greenlaw was ejected for making contact with a non-player. DiSandro also was told to leave and walked to the locker room to a roaring ovation from Eagles fans. Philadelphia coach Nick Sirianni apologized to Shanahan during their postgame handshake.
Broncos rookie speedster Marvin Mims Jr. was wide open for a 56-yard touchdown pass but Russell Wilson underthrew him and Texans cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. wasn't flagged by referee Shawn Smith's crew despite launching himself into Mims without even turning to track the pass and despite arriving well before the ball.
There also wasn't a flag thrown when Wilson got hit low on the first drive of the game, but Samaje Perine's drop in the second half was probably a fumble. The officials said his forward progress had been stopped before he let go of the ball, erasing a Houston touchdown and keeping the game tight until the very end.
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed.
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