Thursday, January 20, 2011
Big Question: The return of Terry McAulay
By Kevin Seifert
Is there anything to read into the NFL's referee selection for Sunday's NFC Championship Game?
If you haven't already heard, referee Terry McAulay will work the game at Soldier Field.
Cue the collective groan from Green Bay and hysterics from Chicago.
Yes, McAulay also worked the teams' Week 3 matchup, one in which the Packers absorbed a team-record 18 penalties. A few of them proved monumental in determining the outcome of the game; the Packers lost one touchdown and two takeaways, and they were also called for pass interference late in the fourth quarter to set up the Bears' game-winning field goal.
This time around, McAulay will head an "all-star" crew that won't necessarily include the same men who worked the Week 3 game. Regardless, the referee sets the tone for any crew, and for that reason I thought it was worth checking whether or not that Week 3 game proved a trend or an aberration for McAulay this season. Happily for Packers fans, it was more the latter.
Using a database maintained by ESPN Stats & Information along with NFC West colleague Mike Sando, I grabbed penalty totals for each crew this season. The numbers to the right represent both accepted and declined penalties, which I think provides a better gauge for how active a crew has been.
As you can see, McAulay called the eighth-most penalties this season, placing him squarely in the middle of the referee pack. (Detroit Lions fans will notice that Ed Hochuli, our resident activist referee, was tied for the most.)
McAulay's total included 24 called penalties (against both teams) in the Week 3 game. When you subtract that total, you find his crew called an average of 13.4 penalties in his other 14 games. (Crews work 15 games per season.)
So while his name might conjure bad memories for Packers fans, the assignment probably could have been worse. We won't even start with Hochuli. Look at the name who is third from the bottom of the list. Scott Green's crew called only 183 penalties this season; Green was the referee for the Packers' wild-card playoff loss last season to the Arizona Cardinals. There were two disputed non-calls in overtime of that game, a helmet-to-helmet hit against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and an apparent face mask on the Rodgers fumble that led to the Cardinals' victory.
Sando examined a few specific penalty categories earlier this month, paying special attention to calls that require discretion and often lead to controversy. The only McAulay revelation that stood out to me was that his crew tended to call more offensive pass interference penalties than others. So watch the push-offs, guys. Let's play -- and call -- a clean game.