Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino have lent their prominent voices to one of this season's most underdiscussed takeaways. The two former NFL officiating chiefs, now analysts for Fox Sports, openly questioned this week whether the league's replay standards have changed after a series of surprising rulings from its New York command center.
Speaking on the digital show "Last Call," Pereira said he thinks the "obvious" part of the NFL's "clear and obvious" standard has faded.
"I'm tired of having to come on this show," Pereira said, "and say, 'Why are plays being reversed when we can't find anything ... looking at the same video that they're looking at in New York?' Why in the heck are we having this discussion?"
As I noted last week, replay reversals have spiked in the first half of the 2017 season -- the first in which the league's New York-based officiating staff has final say over reviews. That change coincided with the transition of new senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron, who was promoted in the spring after Blandino resigned.
In a phone interview, Riveron was emphatic in saying that "the philosophy and application of the rule has not changed." He acknowledged that people could interpret "clear and obvious" in different ways but said he had found no common theme to explain the jump in reversals this season.
Blandino was especially critical of Riveron's decision to overturn a touchdown by Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller last Sunday in New Orleans. Blandino said during the Fox broadcast, and again this week, that Miller clearly completed the process of the catch before losing the ball. Miller dislocated his left knee on the play, almost certainly a factor in the ball falling from his hands as he rolled over.
Blandino, in fact, said he was so certain about the call that had it been originally ruled incomplete, he would have reversed it to a touchdown from the command center. Blandino, remember, developed the NFL's replay system. He is also largely responsible for both its reversal standards and interpretations of the catch rule. In other words, his opinion should carry weight.
Without mentioning Riveron, Blandino wondered whether the replay process was becoming "too technical" in an attempt to "nitpick" calls.
"The whole basis of instant replay is that it ... has to be obvious," Blandino said. "Fifty guys in a bar have to agree on it. I just hope that we're not going away from that philosophy where if the evidence is there, overturn it, by all means. But if it's not, don't get too technical, don't analyze it to the nth degree. And I think that's part of the issue right now that we're seeing on some of these plays."
Blandino and Pereira have mentioned a number of replay decisions they have disagreed with. But the most notable were the Miller touchdown/incompletion and a Week 6 score by New York Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins that was changed to a fumble and loss of possession. Riveron explained the Seferian-Jenkins call on the NFL Network, using a replay that was available to him but was not shown on the CBS broadcast.
Regardless, I can't emphasize enough the significance of what Blandino and Pereira are saying. Some of these decisions have directly affected the outcomes of games.
We won't know until after the season whether this trend resulted from growing pains, inconsistency or an unofficial change in standard. But at the moment, at least, some of the results are inexplicable even to the people who were once responsible for making the calls themselves.