Was He Really Flagged For Throwing His Flag?

How can this possibly be?  During the third quarter of the first of three Thanksgiving Day NFL games, the Houston Texans appear to score on an 81-yard touchdown run by Justin Forsett.  However, instant replay clearly showed the runner’s elbow and knee down close to midfield.  Immediately, Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz threw his red coach’s challenge flag.  It was at this time that pure insanity began to settle in.  Or maybe it was just too much tryptophan (although this old wives’ tale has no scientific basis for validity) from eating way too much turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy too early in the morning, but it seems that simply informing the coach he need not challenge the play because the review officials supposedly review every scoring play is just too much to ask for, especially on a day that America gives thanks for being extraordinarily blessed.  Schwartz’ unwarranted violation of unsportsmanlike conduct ultimately cost him the game as the Texans won 34-31 in overtime.

It seems that NFL game officials determined Coach Schwartz was in violation of league rules and was assessed a 15-yard penalty for throwing his challenge flag.  His misdeed, one might ask?  Because the NFL supposedly reviews every scoring play (repeated for sarcastic emphasis), a coach may not throw his flag.  Fine, if the NFL wants to be that nick-picky, but in all my years of watching football I have never seen a coach assessed a penalty for a premature ejaculation of his challenge flag.  Every other time of seeing such an occurrence, a referee will tell the coach he doesn’t have the right to challenge the play or call.  Now however, is when the insanity becomes all-consuming.  Because Coach Schwartz violated league rules and was assessed a 15-yard penalty for throwing his challenge flag, on a play that review officials would positively overturn, the NFL review officials were prohibited from watching a replay that clearly showed Forsett’s elbow and knee on the ground, thus overruling the touchdown.

I have said for many years now that instant replay gets it right only half the time, so why have it.  I think during the course of a long season, replay shows that most officials do make the correct call most of the time anyways.  Why turn an exciting game or momentum turning play into a five-minute standstill if you get the incorrect call half the time?  What happened yesterday was a travesty not only to Detroit Lions players and fans, but also to fans of all football.  During the second game of the day, featuring the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, while talking to a former game official turned network rules analyst about a questionable play in that game, esteemed announcer Joe Buck stated that he probably shouldn’t go there, but then proceed to by asking the analyst his opinion of the questionable play from the earlier game.  His comment was that it is a ridiculous penalty.

Midway through the third quarter of the third game, matching the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, Matt Sanchez threw what looked like a touchdown pass.  However, the back judge ruled the ball hit the ground, and replays confirmed the call.  Al Michaels then proceeded to inform the viewers that because the play was a non-scoring play, Jets coach Rex Ryan had the option of challenging the ruling, which he did.  I guess NFL teams now need a retired league official on the sidelines whose solitary responsibility is to inform the head coach whether or not he is legally allowed to challenge a play, a position to go along with an assistant whose job it is to watch television replays up in the coaches’ booth to determine whether or not an official’s call was correct or should be challenged.

If the NFL truly believes it must penalize a coach who inadvertently threw his challenge flag, do so with a 5-yard penalty.  However, to include with a 15-yard penalty the stipulation that review officials are prohibited from reviewing the play in question is completely asinine.  That touchdown erroneously allowed in the Lions-Texans game decided the outcome.  My conclusion from watching too much football on Thanksgiving Day, is that it seems that the National Football League is more concerned with its image than for getting the correct or fair call made or for any controversial play to be discussed by game announcers.  Like it or not, the NFL is big business, with the bottom line being the bottom line.  There are very few game announcers or studio analysts who will speak out against arguably the most popular, and powerful sports league on the planet, and it appears that is just what the National Football League wants.

Steven H. Spring

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