By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
With yet another touchdown reversal by officiating chief Al Riveron, the only thing that’s “clear and obvious” anymore is the owners’ decision to grant full replay authority to NFL headquarters has only added to the league’s cluster of headaches.
To the player protests, president’s put-downs, receded ratings and sidelined superstars add the unrelenting second-guessing the league has invited with its frame-by-frame micromanagement of the on-field officiating in 2017.
After Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins lost two TDs and Bears tight end Zach Miller another this season, the latest example came Sunday when Kelvin Benjamin’s 4-yard TD catch just before halftime against New England was overturned on review.
Initially, Benjamin was ruled to have gotten both feet down while in possession of the ball. After looking at replays, officials ruled that he was juggling the ball when his first foot hit the turf.
“It was clear and obvious that he did not have control of the ball until he brought it all the way down into his chest,” referee Craig Wrolstad said in a pool report after the game.
It didn’t appear to be so egregious a call as to merit the league’s reversal, however, and the decision was met with widespread criticism.
Bills coach Sean McDermott, whose team settled for a field goal and a 13-13 halftime tie before fading after halftime, was perplexed by the league’s decision.
“I am at a loss for how a play like that can get overturned,” he said.
Former NFL officiating VP Mike Pereira was, too.
“Regarding the Buffalo no touchdown, nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it,” he posted on Twitter .
Pereira suggested the league needs to change the rule book.
“Now that another touchdown has been taken away without clear and obvious evidence, it is time to move on to the catch rule. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense. Start with the Jesse James play. That should be a catch and a touchdown, not an incomplete pass,” Pereira tweeted.
James’ TD to beat New England was erased last week in a move that could have a major impact on the playoffs.
The dour faces in the CBS studio belied the festive holiday decorations as the Benjamin TD reversal dominated the Christmas Eve discussion.
“What else do you want these wide receivers to do?” asked analyst Nate Burleson. “I don’t care what they said … he caught that ball and dragged his feet. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. What do you want him to do? Do you want him to put it inside his jersey and take it home with him?”
Bill Cowher and James Brown opined on how unrealistic it is to expect a spinning football to stick to the receivers’ gloves and freeze in a split second.
“The control element keeps coming up tie after time because when you go frame by frame it’s going to look like it’s moving and it doesn’t mean you’ve lost control,” Cowher suggested.
“Movement does not mean loss of control,” Brown agreed.
“The fact that we are sitting here arguing about it tells you what? If it wasn’t clear cut then it should not have been overturned,” added Boomer Esiason. “It was ruled a touchdown. The fact that we’re sitting here debating it means it should not be overturned. It has to be clearly an error and that is not clearly an error.”
Other notable calls and debatable decisions in Week 16 included:
—The Packers drew the ire of several teams for placing quarterback Aaron Rodgers back on injured reserve with a playoff berth out of reach. He returned from a broken collarbone to play in Week 15. It didn’t appear he had a new injury before going back on IR.
—The Denver Broncos activated rookie receiver/returner Isaiah McKenzie for the first time since his sixth fumble led to a safety and his second benching. He cost them a chance at points just before halftime at Washington when he caught a pass from Brock Osweiler but instead of stepping out of bounds spun back to the middle of the field and was tackled at the 20-yard line as the clock ran out.
McKenzie, active because Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer were hurt, didn’t realize the Broncos had no more timeouts.
“Well, he should be aware,” coach Vance Joseph said. “He was told, and that stuff we work on all the time. That’s no excuse at all that he wouldn’t know that. He was told we had no timeouts. It was an outside throw or nothing. We had three points. That’s something he has to know. Unacceptable.”
Former Broncos lineman Ryan Harris said on CBS4 in Denver that the blame should fall on the coach.
“Isaiah McKenzie should not be playing in the game,” Harris said. “I played with the Steelers and even coach Mike Tomlin benched Antonio Brown, now the best receiver in the game, because he was making mistakes like this.”
AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed.
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