Column: Throw a flag on these NFL refs

Roughly a third of the way through the NFL schedule, it’s been a pretty rough go of it for the league’s officials — whether or not they chose to recognize it.

There’s not only been an uptick in penalties from last season’s all-time record — excluding the Monday night game in Green Bay, there has been an average of nearly 15 per game, up from the average of 13.3 all of last season — but the new system of using replay to correct pass interference is the disaster we all predicted it would be.

Remember this play from the Thursday night game in New England?

Arguably, the biggest crime was not missing the PI call initially, but upholding the call via replay. What the hell good is being able to challenge such a blatantly awful call if the ref is just going to double down on it?

Of course, the blatantly awful no-call that cost the New Orleans Saints their rightful place in Super Bowl LIII is the whole reason why this new rule was enacted, so it’s especially confounding that the officials aren’t even trying to demonstrate a desire to prevent such a miscarriage of justice from ever happening again. If anything, they appear to be flexing in hopes of reasserting themselves as the on-field authorities and showing up the corner-office rules experts like Mike Pereira, Gene Steratore and Dean Blandino.

Which calls to mind the point that the best refs seem to all have cushy TV gigs. Things weren’t perfect with Blandino in the role of senior vice president of officiating currently occupied (poorly) by Al Riveron, but they were better. At a minimum, it felt like there was some level of accountability. That feeling doesn’t exist with Riveron co-signing horrible on-field decisions like the one in New England last Thursday.

As much as we loved to joke about Ed Hochuli’s traveling gun show, his 2018 retirement contributed to this current void in the NFL officiating ranks — one that opened the door for his son, Shawn, to become one of four rookie referees last season. That lack of experience within the ranks (six referees have six or fewer years of NFL experience as an official of any kind) is bringing down a product that should be at its zenith thanks to the presence of transcendent stars like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

Oh, that game between Mahomes and Watson in Kansas City? The Chiefs and Texans were tagged for 21 official penalties for 149 yards — but that’s not including nearly a dozen that were declined, overruled or offsetting. In a matchup between two of the game’s brightest young talents at the most important position, the referees stole the show. Ditto for the game in New York, where there were six straight penalties called during the Cowboys’ potential game-tying drive at the end of their loss to the Jets.

Did you see what happened in Green Bay on Monday night? The 14 combined penalties were a tad shy of the league average, but the NFC North basically belongs to the Packers because of the horrific late-game calls against the Lions.

Nobody’s attending or watching NFL games to see play dragged down by a bevy of yellow flags. Hell, even their own players watching from home can’t stand it.

The NFL has a referee problem it needs to first admit, then correct before people follow the GOAT’s lead and tune them out.

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