Football is a tough game to officiate and NFL crews get a lot of things wrong. So it’s really saying something when the officiating is so bad that it sounds the conspiracy alarms.
The crew of officials assigned to the Thursday Night Football matchup between the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins couldn’t even get through the opening kickoff without screwing things up. And when the egregiously bad night of officiating came just a few hours after an NFL official was fired midseason for the first time in the Super Bowl era, it made at least a few people wonder if something was up.
Are these refs trying to make a statement of solidarity with the guy who got fired by being extra shitty tonight or something?
— Stephen White (@sgw94) October 26, 2018
I think the refs are doing some civil disobedience calling everything in protest of their guy getting fired
— David Steele (@David_C_Steele) October 26, 2018
Wondering what impact an official getting fired has on the stripes willingness to call everything they see, regardless of the impact on play
— Patrick Claybon (@PatrickClaybon) October 26, 2018
Sometimes there are plays that are just difficult to sort out. A Brock Osweiler play just before halftime sure looked like a fumble, but it was a razor close play that the officials probably got right.
It was the many other times the officials called phantom penalties, let obvious violations go, and fumbled their way through the game that raised questions.
It started with a mistake on the opening kickoff
The Texans kicked off to start the game, but the Dolphins picked up an illegal formation penalty for not having enough players in the “set up zone.” That’s a new violation of the reworked kickoff rules and a 5-yard penalty for Miami.
But the officials enforced those 5 yards incorrectly by backing up the Dolphins offense instead of redoing the kickoff. After a discussion, they got it right and the Texans kicked it into the end zone for a touchback.
The penalty, delayed discussion, and subsequent rekick meant the first play from scrimmage came closer to 8:30 p.m. instead of the scheduled 8:20 kickoff.
The Texans got away with a slide tackle
You’re definitely not allowed to trip a ball carrier. So how in the world did the Texans get away with this?
The play happened in the open field on a punt return, but somehow no flag was thrown.
Miami got a touchdown because of a weird illegal contact call
A long snapper is a relatively protected position because they’re in a vulnerable spot. They have their head down and the NFL doesn’t want defenders to take advantage of that by bulldozing into the top of their head.
That’s essentially what the Texans got penalized for when the officials called illegal contact. It was ruled that Houston defensive tackle Joel Heath hit the long snapper in the head or neck area, but replay showed it was a pretty normal play:
A long snapper isn’t that protected. They’re still a player who blocks and, yes, that means they’ll get hit in the chest. It’s a penalty that’s rarely called on a field goal and it gave the Dolphins a first down. They immediately took advantage with a 12-yard rushing touchdown for Kenyan Drake on the very next play.
The officials wouldn’t let the Texans just run out the clock
You’d think after so many mistakes and weird plays in the first half, the officials would’ve been excited to get off the field for a bit. But nope! When the Texans kneeled to wind out the final seconds of the second quarter, and both teams began jogging to the locker room, they were stopped by whistles.
The officials called an illegal formation and made the players come back on the field to do it again.
It was a fitting end to an exhaustingly bad half of officiating. Was the crew sending a message after one of their colleagues got fired in an unprecedented decision by the NFL? Were they just calling things tight because a missed call is the reason an official lost a job?
The most egregious mistakes of the night happened in the first half and the officiating was good in the final two quarters. That only sounds the conspiracy alarms more for the internet. Or maybe it was just another night of confusing officiating.