5 times NFL referees screwed up (maybe) the call

Being a referee in the National Football League is hard.

The officials are under the scrutiny of every single person watching the football game – and often for days afterward.  

These refs are only human, so they are bound to make a few mistakes –  but one bad call could ruin any referee’s reputation and possibly put him/her out of a job.

As the NFL owners get together this week to reconsider what plays can or cannot be reviewed, it’s a good time to relive some of the worst – or at least most famously disputed – calls by NFL referees.

Golden Tate vs. M.D. Jennings

This call from the Sept. 24, 2012, game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers is considered one of the most controversial NFL call of the 21st century.

On the final play of the game, quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone, and both Seahawks’ wide receiver Golden Tate and Packers’ defender M.D. Jennings caught the ball simultaneously.

There were two referees who made the call on the field, one signal ling for an interception, and the other signaling for a touchdown.

The play was eventually ruled a simultaneous completion, giving the reception and the win to the Seahawks.

Dez Bryant vs. Sam Shields

During a 2014 NFC playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, referees overturned a game-winning touchdown catch by Dez Bryant.

On fourth down, Tony Romo threw a 30-yard pass to Bryant who caught the ball inside the five-yard line, after being heavily guarded by Sam Shields and eventually slid into the end zone for the touchdown.

The catch was called a touchdown by the referees but was  overturned during a replay after officials stated Bryant did not maintain possession of the ball throughout the catch.

This call would end up knocking the Cowboys out of the playoffs, ending their remarkable season.

Charles Woodson vs. Tom Brady

During a 2001 AFC playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders, a call by the referees overturned a potential game-winning play by the Raiders.

The iconic play would later become known as the Tuck Rule Game, Raiders’ cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, resulting in a fumble.

Recovered by Raiders’ linebacker Greg Biekert, the play was called a fumble, resulting in a win for the Raiders.

Or so everyone thought.

Referees reviewed the play and determined that Brady was attempting to tuck the ball back into his body, which resulted in an incomplete pass and returned the ball to the Patriots.

The Patriots would end up tying the game and sending it into overtime, where they would win the game and head  to the Super Bowl.

Mike Renfro vs. Ron Johnson

This play occurred back on Jan. 6, 1980, between the Houston Oilers and Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Championship.

Oilers’ wide receiver Mike Renfro beat Steelers’ cornerback Ron Johnson to the corner of the end zone and caught a game-tying touchdown.

The problem was that side judge Donald Orr did not make a call on whether it was a completion nor an incompletion, there was simply no call made.

This was also before instant replay, so when all the referees huddled up to make the call, they had to rely on what they could barely see – though it was obvious on instant replay that Renfro made the completion.

In the end, the catch was ruled an incompletion, and the Steelers would go on to win 27-13, giving them another trip to the Super Bowl.

Tim Couch vs. The Referees

During a game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 16, 2001, chaos ensued as fans pelted referees with plastic beer bottles after a controversial ruling. 

With under a minute to go, Browns’ quarterback Tim Couch had just barely completed a fourth down conversion on  a two- yard pass to wide receiver Quincy Morgan.

The Browns would immediately spike the ball on first down to stop the clock and get organized.

But the referees stopped play to review the previous fourth-down conversion and ended up ruling the Browns had not reached the first-down marker.

The problem was that referees can only review the most recent play, so this decision created chaos among angry fans and  resulted in the referees ending the game early out of fear of injury.


by Jacob Simmons

%d bloggers like this: