The Jacksonville Jaguars grinded out a 19-7 win against the hapless Cleveland Browns on Sunday in a game that was more tense at the end than it needed to be, in large part because the game’s officiating crew was probably the worst I’ve witnessed watching an NFL game.
As most people who read what I write and interact with me know, I generally don’t complain about referring because overall I think it evens out, but on Sunday it was absolutely a factor in the game and it was brutally bad. The Peter Morelli led officiating crew blew multiple calls and put the game in jeopardy near the end with a quick whistle that negated a would-be game sealing touchdown by Dante Fowler, Jr.
Their biggest gaff of the game was when an officially blew a quick whistle on a strip sack by Yannick Ngakoue that was recovered in the open field by Fowler, who had open grass to the end zone with no one with the ability to catch him near bye. After Fowler picked up the football and got about 10 yards down field, whistles started blowing the play dead, which meant no matter the result of the play review that that clear impending touchdown by Fowler would not count.
The referees quite literally took seven points off the board in a game that was within one score late. Sure, it was questionable on live-watch if Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer let go of the football before hitting the ground, but it’s completely inexcusable for the referees to have blown the play dead.
The NFL officials are trained to let the play finish out on something like a turnover or questionable play, for the sole reason that it can be corrected with replay. It was inexcusable for the referees to have blown the play dead, because it was clear sailing for Fowler to the endzone and nearly no one near him to catch him or get blocked. There wasn’t really any risk of injury by letting the play continue, and as worst it would just get overturned if it wasn’t actually a fumble. Instead, the play was whistled dead and reviewed. It was held up as a fumble, correctly, but then the ball was given the Jaguars because there was a “clear recovery by Jacksonville.” – No duh, it was a clear recovery to seven points, too.
The other huge gaff by the referees, more-so the replay officials, was not overturning Dede Westbrook’s catch on the sideline. Initially ruled an incomplete pass, which is what it appeared to be at full speed, on the replay is very clear that Westbrook tapped both feet in bounds and caught the pass. When he hit out of bounds he didn’t lose control and it looked to be an easy challenge and a clear catch by Westbrook, which would have extended the drive rather than putting the team in second and long.
Shockingly, the replay officials ruled that Westbrook didn’t maintain possession so it was not ruled a catch. We got that explanation out of the announcers on the broadcast a few plays later, by the way. The official just simply announced that the ruling on the field was upheld and that was it. No explanation whatsoever as to why, just that the call was correct… which it very clearly was not. The Jaguars got a bit of karma at the end of that drive with Jabrill Peppers muffing the punt and the Jaguars recovering, but ultimately the Jaguars turned it over when Blake Bortles fumbled.
The bad calls didn’t end there, as late in the game it appeared Marqise Lee let a deep pass bounce off his head because it seemed like Bortles underthrew the ball just a tad. On replay however, the ball appeared to bounce off Lee’s head because it bounced off his one out-stretched arm trying to make the catch. Lee only had one arm to use because his other arm was pinned by the cornerback, which is very clear and obvious pass interference right by the sideline official to no call. In fact, the Browns weren’t flagged a single time in the game… which as an 0-10 team seems impossible.
Like I said, I’m not one to complain about officials impacting a game generally, but my word the officials nearly cost the Jaguars the game late. They awarded the Browns an extra drive while the game was 13-7 because the Jaguars offense stalled out after the Fowler fumble recovery, which should have put the game away with a touchdown.