NFL playoff officiating decisions -- What happened on controversial calls -- right and wrong -- and what came next


Cowboys can't get a play off in time.

The Cowboys can't get a play off when an official jumps in to respot the ball after the quarterback hurries to the line. (0:32)

The time is 8:15 PM.

If you felt like the officials were throwing more flags, you were right. Penalties went up to 13.88 per game during the regular season, a bit higher than in the 2020 season, but still way below where they were in the previous two seasons.

As you watch this year's playoffs, you'll see that's the longer-term context. We will spend the next four weeks talking about the performance of players and coaches, not about the fouls that were called against them, because it would be a surprise if we saw many penalty-filled games.

There are many twists and turns to consider. In the 2020 AFC Championship Game, Al Riveron was the senior vice president of the National Football League. He reversed a call that should not have been looked at in the game that decided who would represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

We will have all of your needs covered in this post, which will be updated as needed with rule explanations, important context and other officiating trends. You can come along for the ride. The plays are at the top.

The Cowboys are out of time.

The 49ers and Cowboys played a wild-card game.

The clock ran out as the Cowboys tried to snap the ball from the 49ers' line.

Alex Kemp declared the game over even after the snap was delayed for Ramon George to adjust the spot.

Kemp and George did their jobs. The Cowboys quarterback ran for 17 yards on a designed draw with 14 seconds remaining. The umpire or another official is usually the one to give the ball to. There can't be a snap until an official touches the ball to confirm or change the spot.

The last play.
Bill Barnwell wrote on January 17, 2022.

Tyler Biadasz stood over the ball as the rest of the Cowboys' offense assembled. George had to push through their line to get to the ball. The snap came with one second left.

This was the fault of the Cowboys, from the risky play call with no timeouts remaining to the inability to find an official to give the ball. Kemp and his crew did what was expected of them.

The Niners are off guard.

The 49ers and Cowboys played a wild-card game.

The Cowboys attempted to rush the line with their punt team after converting a fake punt into a first down. With 17 seconds left in the game, the Cowboys sent their offense onto the field for the first-down play.

Ramon George stood near the center to prevent a snap. The game was delayed by two seconds when he moved into position on the play clock.

The Cowboys were likely trying to catch the 49ers off guard for a second play. They probably wanted the 49ers to call a timeout because they kept their punt team on the field and their offense on the sideline.

It didn't work. The Cowboys activated an NFL rule that requires officials to give the defense a reasonable chance to substitute after they sent their offense onto the field. The rule says that if a substitution is made by the offense, the ball will not be snapped until the defense has been able to respond.

Alex Kemp had to decide how long to allow the 49ers to substitute. The Cowboys are to blame for calling a high-risk play that would have netted a modest gain.

Darden takes a hit.

The wild-card game was played in the fourth quarter.

What happened: After returning a kick 18 yards to the 22-yard line, Darden took a late hit.

The ball was moved back to the 10-yard line because of a holding call on Rob Gronkowski, who was on the field as part of the hands team.

There were multiple reasons why officials missed a blatant hit on Darden. The replays showed that Marcus Epps tackled Darden. The Eagles' Johnson hit Darden's helmet when he was getting up after his left knee was still on the ground. The contact knocked Darden backward and onto his back, and he lay down for a while.

There is an argument for holding back some flags at the end of a game, but player safety rules should always be enforced. The helmet rule prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with an opponent, so the hit was illegal because it was late.

A roughing-the-passer call for a hit on Brady?

The wild-card game was played in the first quarter.

Barnett hit Brady after Brady released a pass that fell incomplete.

Barnett was given a penalty for roughing the passer, and the ball was moved 15 yards.

It was reasonable to expect relevance on Sunday since Wrolstad's regular-season crew threw the second-most flags for roughing the passer. We heard from Wrolstad within the first minute of the game.

Barnett hit Brady above the knee. A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and hit the passer in the knee area or below even if he is being contacted by another player.

The rule was developed by the NFL after Brady tore his knee in 2008. Not even a charitable viewing of the contact would suggest that it applied to this rule. If you have any doubts, you can note that Brady never appealed to Wrolstad for a flag after the hit.

Is this really roughing the passer?

The wild-card game was played in the fourth quarter.

The defensive end from the Cincinnati Reds made contact with the Raiders quarterback after he released a pass to Josh Jacobs.

The referee threw a flag for roughing the passer. The extra 15 yards gave the Raiders a 30-yard gain in total, which put the ball at the 35-yard line, where they could have scored the winning touchdown.

The schedule and format are full.

See more playoff content.

Over the years, the league has moved in dramatic ways to protect quarterbacks, creating rules that prohibit them from being hit forcibly in the head or neck area, as well as below the knee, when they are in the pocket or otherwise in a defenseless posture.

The flag was thrown, but at best, it appeared that Carr's helmet was grazed by the right shoulder or arm of Kareem. It would be up to Boger to determine if that contact was forcible. He is not tasked with taking into account the game situation, but you would like to see any call be obvious to the viewer -- whether it is the fourth quarter of a playoff game or the first quarter in Week 1.

Carr made his case by snapping his head back and pointing at his helmet, and he should have done that. It is possible that another angle would show more forcible contact, but from what we could see on the NBC replay, it was not.

whistle on a touchdown

The Raiders and theBengals are playing a wild-card game.

On the third-down play from the Raiders' 10-yard line, the quarterback scrambled toward the right sideline. A whistle could be heard on the NBC broadcast when the ball was in the air. The receiver caught the pass and ran.

The play was ruled a touchdown after a lengthy discussion among officials.

This should not have been a touchdown if the whistle came from the crowd or someone other than one of the seven officials on the field. There are two options. Either the whistle was meant to rule out Burrow or it was an accident. The play must be stopped at the time of the whistle in either case.

The ball becomes dead immediately if an official sounds the whistle wrongly while the ball is still in play. The rule states that if the ball is in player possession, the team in possession may choose to play it dead or replay it.

The touchdown should not have counted. It isn't reviewable. It's unfair to allow post-whistle action to count when players stop playing when they hear a whistle.

The play occurred during the game between the Bills and the Pats. The referee Gene Steratore correctly halted the play when Danny Amendola was running up the field, but he messed up by placing the ball at the spot where he was when the whistle blew.

It was 20-6 when Burrow stayed in bounds.
It was posted on the NFL's website.
January 15, 2022.

The whistle was blown on the field after the receiver caught the ball, according to a pool report from the game.

The judgement of the man does not line up with the evidence. The broadcast had a whistle that was audible before the ball was caught. This explanation is the only possible justification for the touchdown.

Anderson didn't say anything to indicate he supported or rejected the explanation. He seems to have passed along the on-field judgement on a play that wasn't reviewable.

This is the official line of the NFL. The person who blew the whistle knows when it happened. The players who appeared to stop before the ball was caught knew when they heard it. Millions of television viewers heard it. It might have been painful, but the more credible explanation would have been that a rule was misapplied and that the entire sequence didn't meet NFL standards.

The pool report didn't discuss why the NFL didn't use its new video assist program to correct the mistake. The video assist rule allows replay officials and the league's officiating department in New York City to advise the game officials on specific, objective aspects of a play when clear and obvious video evidence is present.

Addressing an incorrect whistle is an administrative issue. It's not reviewable to decide whether there was an incorrect whistle. It's a mystery why the NFL didn't tell Boger in real time that the down should be replayed.

The returner steps out of bounds as the Raiders start their drive.

The Raiders andBengals are playing a wild-card game.

What happened: Raiders kick returner Peyton Barber stepped out of bounds after grabbing the bouncing ball near the sideline.

The Raiders were in terrible field position for their third possession of the game because Barber was ruled down at the 2.

Barber was trying to get the ball marked at the 40-yard line by exploiting a little-known rule. He wanted to step out of bounds and touch the ball. When a ball touches a player after he has established himself out of bounds, the ball is ruled out of bounds. The referee would have spotted the ball at the 40 if Barber stepped out first. He was ruled to have run out of bounds with the ball because he grabbed it before that.

In 2012 the Green Bay Packers tried to leverage the rule by stepping out of bounds and reaching for the ball, most notably Randall Cobb.