Referees make mistakes — no one is perfect and they have an incredibly difficult job. There isn’t a game that’s played where a referee doesn’t have an error.
Usually, those errors are covered up by replay, and usually, they don’t come in immediate succession.
But instant replay couldn’t correct the two egregious errors that came at the end of the first half of Monday night’s Seahawks-Bills game, and those bad decisions well could have robbed Buffalo of a chance to land a big road win in Seattle.
First, the missed calls: With three seconds left in the first half and following a Bills timeout, Buffalo lined up for a 53-yard field goal to cut the Seattle lead to 28-20.
On that attempt, Richard Sherman jumped offsides and drilled Bills kicker Dan Carpenter, who missed the kick.
There was no roughing the kicker call or a late-hit personal foul flag for Sherman. Despite the borderline dirty hit, the only penalty was for jumping offsides.
That’s missed call No. 1.
The clock started running after the five-yard penalty, so the Bills had to spike the ball, leaving them one second to kick a 49-yard field goal.
Carpenter made that kick, but the referees waved the made field goal off — they ruled that there was a delay of game, despite the fact that an official was over the ball with three seconds remaining on the play clock and still engaged with linemen well after the clock expired (it took at least five seconds for another ref to throw a flag). The play clock should not have started until the ball was placed and the referee had pulled back from the line of scrimmage.
That was missed call No. 2 and it was just as egregious as Sherman’s late hit.
The Bills then kicked another field goal — this time from 54 yards, and Carpenter shanked it.
At the end of the contest, Buffalo drove down the field looking to tie and take the lead, as they trailed by six points. They made it all the way to the Seattle 7 with one minute remaining, but they were held out of the end zone on the next two plays and turned the ball over on downs, losing 31-25.
Had Carpenter’s made field goal at the end of the first half not been waved off, or had the referees flagged Sherman for 15 yards for his late hit, it would have set up a 38-yard field goal, and Carpenter has made 97 percent of field goals within 40 yards in his career. Had that happened, the Bills — in all probabilities and likelihoods — would have been able to kick a game-tying field goal in the final minute of the game Monday and set up overtime with Seattle.
There’s no guarantee they would have won in overtime, and indeed, Carpenter could have made the third field goal attempt in the first half, or the Bills could have won the contest in the second half, despite the referee’s three-point mistakes, but that truth — three points proved critical to this contest — cannot be ignored.
The NFL has tons of problems this season, and refereeing is now going to be at the epicenter of that conversation. In the most entertaining Monday Night Football game of the year, the main takeaway will be the failure of the officials.
One issue that will surely be presented: The NFL does not employ its referees full-time. Yes, all referees have other jobs and work for the NFL part-time. Surely a league that took in an estimated $13 billion last year has the money to pay referees full-time, full-year wages, leaving them mentally and physically fresh for Sundays, Thursdays, or Monday Nights.
Saints coach Sean Payton suggested that the NFL go to full-time referees last week.
That said, there’s no evidence that referees are tired or that they’re particularly interested in full-time employment. The NFL’s most famous referee, Ed Hochuli, makes $200,000 annually as a crew chief and told 60 Minutes Sports that he treats refereeing as his full-time job and is an attorney on the side.
Still, this sort of thing cannot stand, and suspensions and league apologies aren’t going to give the Bills a second chance to win that game Monday.
What is it about Seattle and poor refereeing decisions?