SEATTLE Maybe all of Richard Sherman’s carping and criticism of NFL officiating paid off Monday night. Subliminally at least, perhaps?
Or not. Maybe it’s just that officiating all evens out for and against a team over the course of any season.
A zany sequence that turned into a clown show at the end of the the first half of the Seahawks’ win over Buffalo included two officiating judgments that went the Seahawks’ way. The sequence and officiating errors absolutely benefited Seattle on the game’s final drive, and helped the Seahawks win 31-25.
Sherman is part of the reason I got pressed into the rare duty of being a pool reporter at an at NFL game.
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It’s usually nothing more than an announcement in the press box before the game that, should any plays arise that require a referee’s postgame explanation of his rules interpretation, here’s the guy that will go find those answers.
I am that guy in Seattle. And it became apparent on the final play of the first half in that for the first time in two seasons as a pool reporter I was headed to that duty instead of my usual postgame one in the Seahawks’ locker room.
Trailing 28-17, the Bills drove to the Seattle 35-yard line in the final seconds. They called timeout to set up a long field goal by Dan Carpenter.
Well before the snap, as if he was unsuccessfully guessing the snap count, Sherman charged in from the far left side. The three-time All-Pro cornerback was offside from me to you, as the great Vin Scully would say.
"I went for the ball. The holder (Colton Schmidt) still had it. I didn’t hear a whistle – they say. ‘Play to the blow of the whistle,’” Sherman said. “I went and tried to block the kick. And I got it, I think I got a piece of it. And then the kicker somehow kept going. I assumed he was going to stop."
Whether Sherman tipped the football or not, he also crashed into Carpenter, who laid on the turf as the Bills medical staff ran onto the field to tend to him.
Because Sherman hit the ball, roughing the kicker does not apply. But a player by rule cannot recklessly slam into any player in any situation, especially a dead-ball one. Referee Walt Anderson, standing behind the kicker and the contact, did not flag Sherman for being unnecessary roughness. His crew had already flagged him for being offside.
But the whole mess of the issue is the whistles aren’t heard, even through the on-field microphones on television until Sherman is hitting Carpenter.
Sherman hit the kicker so hard Carpenter stayed down on the field. Bills trainers came out. Or at least Carpenter sure made it look that way. Because of the trainers being out, Anderson ruled the kicker had to go to the sideline for one play with three seconds left in the half.
Smartly, the Bills offense hurried back on the field and rushed to spike the ball just as Anderson was starting the clock with his ready-for-play whistle. That stopped the clock with 1 second left, time for Carpenter to get back on the field for a 49-yard field goal.
But then the Bills were whistled for delay of game. That was after umpire Butch Hannah stood over the ball as the Bills ran on its kicking team and officials changed out the game ball with the special “K” kicking balls the league uses in every game. Hannah stayed over the ball until there were just four seconds remaining on the play clock.
Carpenter kicked the ball anyway despite the delay-of-game penalty. He made that kick that didn’t count.
So Carpenter then had to try a 54-yard field goal. He missed it--badly.
As the Bills needed a touchdown instead of a field goal to tie on the final drive inside the final 2 minutes, I realized I needed to talk to Anderson as the pool reporter. I went down to the Buffalo media’s side of the press box to ensure I had gathered any questions they wanted on the weird plays.
After filing my first game story -- we call it the “breaking gamer” -- for thenewstribune.com I went downstairs and met a Seahawks representative plus the replay official from the press box outside the Seahawks’ locker room. We walked around the field to the opposite corner and the officials’ locker room.
They were expecting me there.
After a wait I presumed to be Anderson, the referee, conferring back to league headquarters in New York with Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president for officiating, I went into the officials’ locker room. Anderson was cordial as we exchanged introductions. He then politely answered my questions, one on one, in a back room.
(Why wasn’t the play blown dead for unabated to the kicker?) "It was. We were blowing it dead for unabated to the kicker, that is what the foul was."
(Why no roughing foul for Sherman hitting the kicker?) "We were shutting the play down, that would be my call. I just didn’t feel like the actions and the contact, because we were shutting the play down, warranted a foul."
"With the trainer coming on, and Buffalo out of timeouts, we end up having an injury time out. Even though they were out of time outs, it counts as a fourth time out. There is no penalty assessed, unless you get to the fifth one, for that, but it does require him to go out for one play."
And that applies to any player at any time if a trainer comes out… "Correct."
(What about your umpire standing over the ball until 3 or 4 seconds left on the play clock on the second field-goal try?) "Any time we end up with the teams coming out (substituting), we end up putting a regular ball out, bringing in the kicking ball, we will hold up the play, just for the teams to get their substitutes in and then we will move off the ball. If there was that little time left, then that’s probably a mistake on my part in terms of not pumping the play clock back up. But, I was not aware that it was that far into the play clock."
(How do you determine whether it is roughing a kicker after an unabated situation? I should have asked “unnecessary roughness”) "We didn’t end up having a kick, so one of the things we’re just looking for is does the player have a chance to realize that we’re shutting the play down from that standpoint and whether or not he has an opportunity to avoid any type of contact once he realizes that we’re getting the play shut down. I know it was loud out there for everybody. That’s probably what took us a little bit of time to get everything shut down. But that’s what we’re looking at. Does the contact rise to the level where we feel like it was clearly avoidable, and rose to the level of a personal foul."
(Do you feel Sherman couldn’t have told that the play was blown dead?) "Well, that’s just what it looked like to me."
About the same time I was speaking with Anderson in Seattle, NFL Network was interviewing Blandino in New York.
“The officials were in the process of shutting the play down. Sherman jumped offside and he was unimpeded to the kicker so we shut that down,” Blandino said. “The referee didn’t think that the contact was severe enough. He felt that players were coming together and he just didn’t think it was a foul.
“We looked at it and it is a foul. It is no different than a defender coming offside and hitting a quarterback after the whistle blew, so it should have been unnecessary roughness.”
Blandino was asked if this is something that needs to be addressed along with some other calls in the National Football League.
“Obviously whenever it comes to player safety, we want to look at these fouls,” the supervisor of officials said. “It’s something that we stress with our referees when it comes to the quarterbacks and the kickers with roughing the kicker and roughing the passer, so we certainly don’t want to miss calls like that.”
Blandino was also asked about the delay-of-game penalty.
“The umpire was actually over the ball. Any time the play clock goes down under 20 seconds we want to reset it if we are still over the football,” Blandino said. “It looked like the play clock had run down probably to five or six seconds so we want to reset the play clock there when the officials are actually conversing and delaying the snap.
“We are absolutely going to address it. Anytime you have a sequence like that at any point during the game we want to see what happened and just walk through the steps of where the breakdown was. Regardless of the outcome of the game, we are going to address the situation with our crew.”
Not surprisingly, Bills coach Rex Ryan called the rulings and clown show "ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.”
"It was clear what happened: the guy roughed our kicker. He jumps offsides and roughs our kicker,” Ryan said.
"From an officiating standpoint, I think it can go a little better than that."
Sherman wasn’t done infuriating Ryan -- or his brother, Bills defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Just before the teams left the field for halftime, Rob Ryan was yelling at Sherman from the sideline.
After Sherman intercepted Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor in the end zone in the third quarter and returned it up the Bills sideline, he jawed at Rex Ryan. The Bills’ head coach yelled back at Sherman.
“He is mean-mugging like he’s doing,” Ryan said. “Whatever, but the guy is a great player. ... He is over on the sideline basically taunting us, so I had some words.
“I think I said, ‘You’re too good a player to act like an ass.’”
Sherman’s response: "I couldn’t hear him. I couldn’t really hear him. I think he was saying something, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying."