It's New Year's Day, the first installment of 2011, and we should all be doing something other than what I'm about to embark on. But sorry, I can't help it. I tried all week to calm down, but I still can't help myself from climbing on the soap box one more time to point out another round of reasons why the NFL shouldn't put officiating in the hands of its coaches.
Yes, I've already complained a few times this season about the limitations of the replay review system, specifically the way it makes good officiating a matter of strategy rather than effective oversight. We had three more examples last weekend of poor calls that, for various reasons, the current challenge system could do nothing about. In order:
Sunday at Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers running back John Kuhn took a handoff at the New York Giants' 8-yard line and rumbled toward the end zone. Referee Walt Anderson's crew awarded Kuhn a touchdown, and almost immediately, Kuhn jumped up and started sprinting toward the sideline. As he ran, Kuhn was rolling his right index finger to encourage the Packers' extra-point team to hurry onto the field.
The play occurred with 1 minute, 54 seconds remaining in the second quarter, meaning that only the replay official in the booth -- and not New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin -- could initiate a review. Initial replays showed Kuhn's right knee touching the ground with the ball close enough to the goal line to merit a review, but the Packers got the extra point quickly enough to avoid it.
Afterwards, Kuhn said: "I felt like it was pretty close. I wasn't sure if I was down first, but I felt like my knee hit right near the goal line, so I wanted to make sure we got out there and kicked it as fast as we could."
It was a smart reaction by Kuhn and absolutely within the rules. But getting a call right shouldn't be a race. Teams shouldn't have the opportunity to beat replay officials to the punch. We don't know for sure if that's what happened in this case, but it's certainly what Kuhn was trying to do. Quite simply, that option shouldn't exist. No team should be disadvantaged by a strategy that externally speeds up the replay process. Booth officials should have the option of stopping the next play until determining, in a thorough and sensible manner, whether a review is necessary.
Meanwhile, in the fourth quarter, the Giants were unable to challenge an obvious mistake. Packers nickel back Sam Shields was awarded an interception at the Giants' 46-yard line even though his left foot clearly came down out of bounds. Coughlin, however, had used two challenges in the third quarter. The second was unsuccessful, therefore leaving him without an available red flag for Shields' interception.
You could blame Coughlin for making a poor decision to challenge Brandon Jacobs' fumble in the third quarter, but to me, that shouldn't be part of the equation. Coaches shouldn't have to weigh the potential for challenging bad calls later in the game when deciding whether to throw the red flag now. The goal should always be getting every call right, one that could be achieved by expanding the number of challenges available or moving complete responsibility to the booth.
To be clear, this rant is not to suggest the Packers stole a victory or cheated or did anything other than what they should have done Sunday. This is not about the Packers or the Giants. It's about removing teams and strategy from efforts to ensure a well-called game, and instead placing it totally within the third-party area that officials are intended to inhabit.
And finally, it's not about the Minnesota Vikings, either. If you were watching their game in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, you saw quarterback Joe Webb get credit for a 6-yard run on third-down-and-6 -- a play that allowed the Vikings to run off another three minutes while nursing a 10-point lead over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Replays showed Webb's right knee hit the ground with the ball a full yard behind the first-down marker. It was a poor spot, but Eagles coach Andy Reid was powerless to do anything about it. Why? Because he had already used all of his timeouts and, thus, with about four minutes remaining in the game, lost the opportunity to challenge. (A challenge costs a timeout if it fails, so you can't buy one without it.)
In this case, you couldn't blame Reid for using up his challenges. He simply used his final timeout on the play before to stop the clock. To me, it doesn't seem fair for teams to save a timeout for a possible late-game challenge. That's a strategy that gets in the way of, rather than promotes, a well-officiated game.
Again, finally, and for the last time (I think): There should be no limitations on correcting bad calls.
And, oh, Happy New Year.
And now, on to our penultimate Challenge Tracker: