Grimes: NFL playoffs plagued by controversial officiating

Alec Grimes
Alec Grimes

The NFL postseason is one of the most anticipated and riveting sporting events of the year, as it features the game’s best teams battling in a win-or-go-home scenario. The competitiveness of such games is what keeps fans on the edge of their seats, even after their favorite team’s season has drawn to an end. Without a doubt this NFL postseason has been anything but disappointing, however it has not come without its fair share of controversy, which has overshadowed many of the great performances throughout.

The beginning of this postseason quarrel was in the Wild Card Round matchup between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. The Detroit Lions faced a key third-down attempt and with 8:25 showing on the clock, Matthew Stafford dropped back and threw a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew which was batted down by Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens. A flag for pass interference was thrown on the play and eventually announced by the head official over his microphone. Detroit Lions players and fans alike began to get excited for what would be the franchise’s first playoff win since 1991. But now the Lions are wondering what could have been and are still searching for that elusive postseason win, after the call on the play had been overturned.


Whether or not the call was correct is not the issue here, the issue is that the call was not handled correctly since it was called one way and then changed seconds later, without a sufficient amount of discussion from the officials. An even bigger issue is that the incredible comeback by the Cowboys is now jaded and viewed as undeserved. The great seasons of both teams are now overlooked as well, as they are now known as the team that “got lucky” or the team that “got cheated”.

Another instance of a penalty that affected the outcome of the game came in the divisional round contest between Green Bay and Dallas, this time Dallas was on the other end of the call. A spectacular play was made by Dallas receiver Dez Bryant on a fourth down with only 4:06 left in the game. Bryant made what looked to be a catch downfield and then an attempt to dive for a score that would have put his team in the lead. The play was ruled as a catch on the field and the ball was spotted on the one-yard line. Bryant’s catch for the ages was then reviewed and overturned due to the liberal interpretation of such catches in the rule book. Green Bay went on to run out the rest of the clock, ending Dallas’ season. This play was at a pivotal point in the game and could have been the decisive moment but it overshadows the rest of the game in which Dallas had several missed opportunities.

Both of these officiating errors—attributed to lack of confidence, second guessing and the misinterpretation of rules—enlighten the problem with today’s game: the officials have too much influence on the outcome. Sure, the officials are needed for the function of the game and they are helpful, however they directly influenced the outcome of each game rather than the plays made throughout. Incredible plays such as Bryant’s “catch” (which would have been remembered for years to come) will become a thing of the past as long as the officials have as much influence as they do today. These plays are the reason why athletes and fans alike are so passionate about the sport. The competitive nature of the game that drives players and intrigues fans is beginning to be taken out of the game by officials, and something must be done to save the game of football as we know it.

Collegian Sports Reporter Alec Grimes can be reached at and on Twitter  @GrimesAlec.