It would be easy to criticize Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy for not challenging a fourth-down reception in the second quarter of last Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Referee Peter Morelli's crew credited Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez with a 6-yard reception on fourth-and-3, although subsequent replays showed the ball fell through Gonzalez's hands and hit the ground before the whistle blew.
McCarthy said on Sunday that no one in the coaches' booth saw a conclusive replay until several plays later, a timeline the Falcons smartly sped up by going to the no-huddle offense. The play was critical enough to consider a so-called "blind challenge" based on hope rather than knowledge, but McCarthy said Monday that Morelli's crew "is among the lowest at turning over challenges" and thus not a prudent risk.
While I don't totally understand McCarthy's explanation -- FOX aired a pretty solid replay well before the next snap -- I don't want to harp on his inaction. For me, this episode is part of a larger theme we have hit a couple times this year. (In October and November.)
Good officiating shouldn't rely on coaching challenges, the speed of television networks nor be subject to home-field advantage. The whole idea of having officials is to establish neutral third parties to administer and adjudicate the game as fairly as possible. The addition of coaching strategy, the reliance on network producers and the emergence of creative scoreboard operators block that ideal.
If there is going to be instant replay in pro football, I would much rather see it implemented with the same neutrality that officials are expected to operate under. You might be tired of hearing this from me, but why should a home team be more entitled to good calls than the visitors? McCarthy grimly referred to that as "part of our game," but I don't think it should be.
In the fourth quarter, as you might recall, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed a short pass to Gonzalez, who was ruled to have been tackled at the Packers' 1-yard line. Almost immediately, the Georgia Dome scoreboard displayed a magnified replay that showed Gonzalez might have been in the end zone when he initially made the catch. Falcons coach Mike Smith ultimately was stymied on his challenge -- Morelli apparently didn't see conclusive evidence to overturn from his replay -- but obviously McCarthy wasn't afforded the same opportunity in the second quarter.
Kudos to the Falcons for capitalizing on an advantage this system offers. But the only way to administer the replay system fairly is to put it fully in the hands of the officials If there is a questionable call, allow the designated replay official in the booth to initiate it. Can't we stop depending on coaches who are buried in play-calling and game management, as well as on network producers who shouldn't have a role in the outcome of games, and expect the neutral third party to fully officiate games?
Enough for now -- although I'm going to hold on to my soap box so I'll be ready the next time this happens.
On to our updated Challenge Tracker: