Longtime readers know our "Dirty Laundry" feature typically delves into some of the more controversial or nuanced officiating issues of the previous week's games. The NFL's ongoing labor dispute with its regular officials has made the performance of its replacements one of the league's top overall issues, and it has left us with no shortage of plays to examine here.
My strong sense is the NFL has won the public relations battle over the significance of this transition. Anecdotally, at least, the most common refrain I hear from you is that mistakes will occur weekly no matter who the officials are. If the regular officials were hoping a public outcry over bad calls would elevate their leverage, it seems they have been disappointed.
With that said, I continue to believe there is a significant and fundamental difference between mistakes of judgment -- pass interference, feet in bounds, etc. -- and rule application or missing glaring offenses. The former admittedly occurs with regular officials, but the latter has mostly been the domain of replacements. One is excusable to an extent, the other should not be acceptable at the game's highest level.
Don't take it just from me. After watching both his team and the San Francisco 49ers benefit from blatant officiating mistakes, here's what Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said this week on his ESPN 540 radio show about replacements: "They're under a lot of scrutiny, and the ones we had last week deserved the scrutiny. You have to understand the rules."
In the Packers' game alone, causal observers could count at least two plays where officials didn't notice 49ers left tackle Joe Staley commit a false start. And there was also the inexplicable decision to pick up a flag after what even Rodgers admitted was "a legit block in the back" on Randall Cobb's 75-yard punt return.
"That one wasn't a discrete block in the back," Rodgers said. "… It's just frustrating when you're positive there's either a missed call, or that the rule was not interpreted the way that it's supposed to be interpreted. There were multiple instances of that, and when you watch the film back it's frustrating. … It has to hopefully get better."
Similar situations were sprinkled throughout NFC North games in Week 1. The Chicago Bears, for instance, netted an interception when officials missed defensive lineman Israel Idonije's clear encroachment into the neutral zone before the snap. It appeared that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck saw Idonije, expected a penalty and threw a deep pass on what he figured was a free play.
Again, you could do a search on this blog for "Dirty Laundry" and find any number of officiating mistakes we've hashed through. And we should, as always, note that the NFL rulebook is thick and nuanced and clearly quite difficult to absorb in a crash course. Maybe I'm beating the proverbial dead horse here, but my strong sense is that many people are tolerating unacceptable errors under the broader understanding that mistakes always happen.
This season, we'll continue to monitor total penalties in this post -- including those that were declined and/or offset -- and yardage lost per team. We'll also add another category: Gained yards nullified by penalties. Here you go: