Dirty Laundry: Intent in challenges

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
12:45
PM ET
"Dirty Laundry" originated as a feature to follow how each NFC North coach uses in-game challenges. It expanded to include questionable officiating decisions across the board, and usually I try to address calls based on comments and complaints sent to the mailbag.

But every now and then, I still like to look at the challenge process because I think it provides rare insight into a coach's in-game mentality. In the past two weeks, we've seen the Minnesota Vikings' Brad Childress and the Green Bay Packers' Mike McCarthy challenge plays for reasons other than getting the call overturned.

First up: In the Sept. 9 season-opener at the New Orleans Saints, Childress challenged a third-down incompletion with 14:57 remaining in the game. Initial television replays confirmed what to me seemed evident from the high-altitude press box at the Superdome: Quarterback Brett Favre's pass bounced before landing in the arms of tight end Jim Kleinsasser.

Childress occasionally challenges plays as sort of an extended timeout, and in this case, it gave his defense a few extra minutes of rest after what would have been a three-and-out. Afterwards, Childress said he had an obscured view of Kleinsasser's hands during the play but admitted "it never hurts" to give the defense a break in that situation. In essence, Childress lost a timeout but gained more "rest time" than if he had simply called one instead of throwing the red flag. The cost was lowering his available challenges to one for the remainder of the game, a minimal risk considering the game was already in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, McCarthy challenged a first-quarter incompletion last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills even after replays clearly showed receiver James Jones' right foot coming down out of bounds. How could that happen? McCarthy, in his usual direct way this week, said: "It was a bad challenge."

The way McCarthy described it, his organized protocol worked. The assistant assigned to watch replays in the coaches booth told him Jones was out of bounds. But players and other people on the sidelines often lobby emotionally for a challenge, and the Lambeau Field crowd also seemed to be encouraging McCarthy -- who challenged more calls than any other NFC North coach last season -- to throw the red flag.

McCarthy did and immediately regretted it.

"I should have never challenged it," he said. "The clock was running down. I got some advice that I shouldn't have taken, especially when the guy in my ear was telling me that he was out of bounds. So it was a poor challenge, I shouldn't have challenged it. My intent was just to take the timeout. We were down to six seconds on the 40-second clock when I made the decision. I should have taken a timeout there."

As we like to say, honesty is always the best policy. Now, on to our updated Challenge Tracker:

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