NFL Nation: officially speaking

A closer look at Super Bowl referee

January, 30, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- Jerome Boger is the referee assigned to work Super Bowl XLVII.

Don't yawn just yet.

The NFL's handling of the assignment, while already under unprecedented scrutiny, will become a much bigger story if an officiating miscue influences the outcome between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

Boger's assignment to the game has generated controversy amid accusations the NFL reversed eight negative marks from his report card.

The implication, spelled out by the officiating website, is that the NFL went out of its way to assign Boger to the game in the interests of promoting racial diversity. The NFL has denied this happened. has taken officiating coverage to new levels in a short period of time. We're left wondering to what degree the Boger report reflects legitimate concerns or sour grapes from anonymously quoted officials feeling jilted over their own standing within the officiating hierarchy.

Whatever the case, Boger finds himself under unusual pregame scrutiny through no fault of his own. He worked the 49ers' divisional-round victory over Green Bay without incident. He previously worked three other divisional-round games. He has never worked a conference championship game or Super Bowl.

As we noted back in October, Boger's crews have called a league-high number of holding penalties against interior defensive linemen. That was notable at the time because New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride had recently suggested 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by holding opponents to free up outside linebacker Aldon Smith for sacks.

Boger's crew has called a league-high 18 holding penalties against defensive linemen since 2008. That is about triple the average and six more than runner-up Ed Hocholi's crew. Boger's crew called zero such penalties this season, however. Crew tendencies can be difficult to discern because officals work a relatively small number of games. Also, regular-season trends might not hold up because the NFL shifts to all-star crews for the playoffs.

The first chart shows where Boger's crew has ranked in number of penalties called over the past three seasons. The NFL has maintained 17 crews. I've singled out a few choice penalties for display in the chart. The row showing personal fouls reflects calls labeled as unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness and general personal fouls. Other 15-yard penalties are not included.

Boger's crew members called many of the penalties listed in the chart, of course. Referees are primarily responsible for roughing-the-passer and some holding calls. The NFL spells out each official's responsibilities on its website.
One NFL head coach rated John Parry as the league's best referee for a confidential survey back in 2008.

San Francisco 49ers fans might recall Parry for the disputed chop-block call he made against running back Frank Gore at Baltimore in Week 12. The flag wiped out a 75-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. in a game the 49ers lost, 16-6.

That call comes to mind this week after the NFL assigned Parry's crew to work the 49ers' divisional playoff game against New Orleans on Saturday.

Coach John Harbaugh called the ruling in Baltimore "unfortunate" and "unlucky" given what he considered that specific penalty's somewhat inconsistent enforcement.

That was the only chop-block penalty Parry's crew called during the regular season. The NFL did not fine Gore for the block. I thought the call was technically accurate, at best, but it did not fulfill the intent of the rule, which was to protect players. Gore had already committed to deliver a low block when tackle Anthony Davis shoved the defender high.

With an assist from ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together a chart showing where Parry's crew ranks among the 17 crews in various penalty calls. The NFL shifts to all-star crews for championship games and the Super Bowl.

Parry's low ranking for unnecessary roughness appears offset, at least somewhat, by a higher number of calls for generic personal fouls.

NFC West penalty watch: 49ers-Hawks ref

December, 24, 2011
SEATTLE -- Veteran referee Ron Winter gets the call for the San Francisco 49ers' game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

My periodic efforts to find meaning in officiating stats have led to the following chart. Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information provided the officiating data.

I singled out some of the more regularly called penalties and sorted them for Winter based on where his crew ranks in number of such penalties called this season.

For example, Winter's crews have called 16 penalties for delay of game, most in the league. But his crew has called only two penalties for roughing the passer. That ranks 15th out of 17 crews this season.

Winter ranks relatively low in calls for pass interference and illegal contact. That is something to keep in mind for this game. Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner leads the league in penalties, with many for infractions during coverage.
An end-of-season look at where NFL officiating crews rank in a few categories where discretion and controversy tend to apply, listed by referee (with Walt Coleman scheduled to work Seattle's wild-card game Sunday):

The second chart breaks down defensive pass-interference numbers by crew for the last three seasons.

The next chart breaks down offensive pass interference by crew for the 2010 season only.
Note that Coleman's crew has called only one such penalty this season, second-fewest in the league behind Seattle favorite Bill Leavy.

The next chart breaks down the offensive pass-interference calls by crew for the last three seasons.

The final chart shows three-year totals for roughing the passer, by crew.

Seattle fans might remember the controversial roughing penalty against Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock during the team's defeat at New Orleans in Week 11.

The pivotal play did not draw a fine, tacit admission that referee Mike Carey's crew erred on the call.

Coleman's crews have only four roughing calls over the last three seasons, fewest in the league among referees working continuously since 2008.

Note: All info from ESPN Stats & Information and includes declined penalties.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Referee 2009 Replay Reversals
Don Carey
Al Riveron
Jerome Boger
Terry McAulay
John Parry
Gene Steratore
Mike Carey
Carl Cheffers
Walt Coleman
Tony Corrente
Scott Green
Ed Hochuli
Peter Morelli
Jeff Triplette
Ron Winter
Walt Anderson
Bill Leavy

Based on Jim Mora's general postgame comportment Sunday, the Seahawks' coach is probably fortunate no one asked what role officiating played in the game.

Referee Don Carey, who accounted for five of 19 replay reversals through Week 2, made his league-leading sixth reversal a memorable one when he returned possession to the Bears following Matt Forte's fumble at the Seattle 1-yard line. Linebacker David Hawthorne had recovered for the Seahawks, who held a 13-0 lead at the time.

"A decision will be reversed only when the referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him," the rule book states.

This one appeared inconclusive at best.

Mora's postgame rant against kicker Olindo Mare might have read differently had anyone pressed for his thoughts on Carey's reversal. I doubt he would have the ruling, uh, acceptable.

"If you’re a kicker in the National Football League you should make those kicks -- bottom line," Mora said of Mare. "End of story. Period. No excuses. No wind, doesn’t matter. You’ve gotta makes those kicks. Especially in a game like this, where you’re kicking and fighting and scratching your tail off and you miss those kicks, it’s not acceptable. Not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable."

Carey suffered two reversals -- and Mike Singletary's ire -- while working the 49ers-Cardinals game in Week 1. He suffered three more reversals in Week 2. The NFL's 17 referees have suffered 26 replay reversals in 48 games this season. More than a third involved calls made by Carey, a rookie referee, and second-year ref Al Riveron.