Putting this right at the top: This isn’t why they lost.
No, the referees are not the reason the Washington Football Team was defeated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday night on Wild Card weekend.
In a 60-minute game played by 22-men at a time and an oblong ball, the seven on-field officials are rarely the reason one team wins and the other team loses.
However… that isn’t to say the referees don’t have a significant impact on a game’s outcome. They play a role just like the weather. Sometimes they are hardly noticeable like a 40-degree day and other times they are raining on your parade or blowing hot air in your face for four quarters.
On Saturday night at FedEx Field, the weather wasn’t a factor. But the officiating definitely was. (And before you accuse the NFL of a conspiracy, officiating problems are more a problem of ineptitude than corruption.)
Count head coach Ron Rivera among those who were unhappy about the refereeing.
“Well, you know, the unfortunate part is if I say anything I get in trouble,” Rivera told the media after the game.
“I can’t complain about the fact that we didn’t get the rule right when we carried the ball into the end zone. I can’t complain about that,” he said flippantly. “I can’t complain about some of the missed calls that I constantly was harping on. Can’t do that either. But we’ll go from there. We’ll address it with the league.”
Here is a look at three pretty obvious calls that didn’t go Washington’s way:
No Defensive Pass Interference
Situation: With Washington down 15-7 in the second quarter, Taylor Heinicke had the offense facing a 3rd-and-9 from the Bucs' 41.
Heinicke’s pass to Cam Sims near the first down marker was broken up and every Washington player was immediately looking for a flag for defensive pass interference.
No flag ever arrived.
Prior to Washington punting, Rivera could be heard yelling at the refs from the sideline, “WAKE UP! WAKE UP! HE WAS EARLY!"
Outcome: Washington punted and Tampa took advantage with a 10-play, 82-yard field goal drive to set up an 11-point halftime lead.
Brandon Scherff Holding
Situation: In Washington’s first drive of the second half, they cut it to an 18-10 game. Then Washington's defense forced a quick three-and-out and got the ball in good field position, their own 42.
On third-and-seven, Heinicke scrambled to his left for 15 yards to get the ball to the Tampa 40. But, the play was negated due to a holding call on All-Pro right guard Brandon Scherff.
On this replay, it doesn’t look like much. Perhaps Scherff hooked the pass rusher when he got past him. Perhaps there wasn’t much contact.
Outcome: This mistake by the refs led to another mistake by the refs.
Situation: On 3rd-and-17, Heinicke found Logan Thomas for 12 yards setting up a 4th-and-5 situation from the Washington 47.
Now, Rivera could have elected to roll the dice and go for it. With Washington down just one score, Ben Baldwin's fourth down model gave the home team a 1.3 percent boost in their win probability.
However, Rivera played it safe and had Tress Way drop a nice 45-yard punt that nearly struck one of the Buccaneers players and Troy Apke downed the ball at the eight.
Apke and the Washington punt coverage team seemed to think the ball touched one of the Bucs players. And Apke decided to continue running with the ball into the end zone. It wasn't that he couldn't stop before the goal line, but he intentionally decided to run into the end zone as if it could have been a touchdown. The referees called it a touchback.
For many, including NBC’s rules expert and former NFL referee Terry McAulay, it was improper for Tampa to gain the extra 12 yards of field possession.
But some blamed Apke not the refs.
Outcome: Well, in this case, ball don't lie!
After the Bucs moved 41 yards down the field, Daron Payne was able to punch the ball loose and Jon Bostic recovered the fumble.
The turnover led to Taylor Heinicke’s incredible touchdown run.
Bonus bad call: J.D. McKissic Incompletion
Situation: From the Tampa Bay 49, Heinicke hit running back J.D. McKissic in the flat for a short gain and as he was reaching the sideline, the ball came loose. It looked like McKissic got two feet down and fumbled the ball out of bounds for a short gain.
Instead, the refs discussed and called it incomplete. And since Washington was out of timeouts they could not challenge the call.
This one is a bonus for an obvious reason: Does anybody know what a catch is? It is nearly impossible to truly determine if this was truly a blown call worthy of writing about or just the run-of-the-mill, ‘it would be nice if the refs could get a bang-bang play correct every single time, but they are human, and that’s asking a lot.’
Outcome: Instead of it being 3rd-and-five, Washington faced a third-and-long which became a 4th-and-21 and that is when Washington’s season came to an end.
Follow @BenKrimmel for the latest.