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Officials have to stop “blowing” critical calls

Jason Cole

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t blow the whistle right away.

Let the play continue and sort it out later.

There are several ways to say it. Whether or not you agree with the principle of a ref swallowing his whistle, the NFL has preached the idea of refs waiting to make a call for nearly two decades.

Yet somehow, someway, the officials keep screwing up this simple principle. On Sunday, the latest example may have cost the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a game. It’s at least the sixth time it has happened this season.

While it’s easy to pin much of the blame on Tampa Bay’s offense after three more turnovers from quarterback Jameis Winston and/or on a brutally poor effort on a critical fourth-and-short play, that story is old hat.

The hand-wringing the Glazer Family is going to do over whether to re-sign Winston this offseason is hard to imagine. That decision, however, doesn’t have to come today.

A decision about how to fix officiating is a more pertinent issue for Commissioner Roger Goodell, Vice President of Officiating Al Riveron and the league as a whole. Errors in officiating have been a theme since the non-call in the Rams-Saints NFC Championship Game in January.

Those errors are costing teams vital wins and impacting legacies.

Put it this way: if the Rams don’t make the Super Bowl last season, is the league completely infatuated with Sean McVay as it was on the way to hiring young coaches such as Matt LaFleur, Kliff Kingsbury and Zac Taylor?

But, I digress. I’ll circle back to this point in a moment.

On Sunday, Tennessee was leading 27-23 and got away with an obvious fumble by holder Brett Kern on a fake field goal with 3:45 remaining. Kern tried to convert a fourth-and-2 play, but was quickly stopped by Buccaneers linebacker Devin White (photo above), coughing up the ball while he was still standing.

The Bucs scooped the ball and looked to have an easy touchdown return that would have flipped the lead. Instead, the play was whistled dead and Tampa Bay took over possession still needing a TD.

If you’re Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians, you have to be asking: what the hell is going on here? This was a brutal whistle and completely against the rule of thumb the NFL has preached for years.

In fact, it’s something that the NFL and Riveron have been emphasizing weekly after the officials erred in week two by blowing the whistle and nullifying a potential game changing fumble return the Saints Cameron Jordan, against….you guessed it, the Rams.

So, there was no reason to blow the whistle Sunday. There was simply no need and no gain. The officials weren’t protecting a quarterback or a defenseless player.

The officials just blew it, literally.

This is the type of play that is simply inexcusable for the NFL to tolerate. It is the kind of play the NFL Referees Association also needs to rail against for the sake of all officials. This requires fines and public accountability, such as saying that officials who make these mistakes will miss a game.

Yes, officiating is incredibly difficult and there are few rewards. No one ever talks about good officiating. Good officiating is defined by not noticing it. If a ref does his job well, it’s like a great waiter who goes unnoticed, because people are so happy with the dining experience.

For those who complain about missed calls, such as the two illegal hands to the face penalties against Trey Flowers in the Detroit-Green Bay game two weeks ago, this is more egregious.

Not following directives of the V.P. of Officiating is a whole lot different than making a poor evaluation in a split second, especially when you may be in an odd position with a bad view.

If you are Goodell or Riveron, this is the stuff that makes you pull your hair out. The only hope they have is that somehow Arians won’t file a complaint. The chances of that are about as good as Bill Belichick smiling in a postgame press conference.

If you are Arians – or, more importantly, Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich or defensive coordinator Todd Bowles – this type of call can change the direction of everything you’re trying to accomplish. The rest of the game was marred by game-costing mistakes, from a botched fourth-and-short call to the game-ending interception by Winston.

The ripple of this play is it could further convince the Glazers to move on from Winston at the end of the season rather than stay with him. All the work Arians and Co. have put in with Winston could be wasted.

For Leftwich, the chance to be a head coach is very much wrapped up in his ability to get Winston to be better. If Bowles has a chance to be a head coach again, the bottom line is about winning.

And while there are plenty of criticisms that can be fairly launched at Arians and his staff, the reality is that the NFL needs to take a more serious approach to punishing officials on plays like the botched fumble/no fumble Sunday in Nashville.

There are too many people with too much at stake.

Jason Cole is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector who has covered the NFL since 1992. He has worked for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Miami Herald, Yahoo Sports! and Bleacher Report. He is the author or co-author of six books, including Giant with Plaxico Burress and Heart for the Game with Simon Keith.

NFL

Who is headed to Miami and Super Bowl XLIV after Sunday?

Florida Football Insiders

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Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Two games remain to determine whom will tee it up at Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. Will the upstart Titans pull off a third straight upset in Kansas City? Can the Packers get revenge over a San Francisco team that humbled them in late November?

We know this: the unexpected has already happened several times in these playoffs and don’t rule out the upsets Sunday.

First, the Baltimore Ravens had been favorites to win Super Bowl LIV for some time now. Pretty much since they destroyed the Pats in the middle of the season. They had already beaten the K.C Chiefs and a handful of other solid teams. And, once they defeated the the 49ers in December, it looked like the Ravens were the best team in the NFL .

Then, last Saturday night, this happened:

The Ravens appeared to be the most complete team in the NFL, but that’s the thing about the playoffs, all it takes is one bad game and you’re out.

The Tennesse Titans went into M&T Bank Stadium and surprised them last Saturday night. Jim Harbaugh got outcoached and the Ravens hit a brick wall of a Mike Vrabel defense. So, now they are gone.

But who fills the void, now that the supposed  “best team in football” got eliminated, and whom is the favorite to win it all now headed in to Championship Sunday?

The Titans and veteran QB Ryan Tannehill are on an epic run. They are the beast slayers, so to speak. But it isn’t them. Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best QB in the NFL, and the Packers have won six games straight games after last week’s close one at Lambeau over Seattle.

However, it’s not them either. The 49ers are in a position to win it all for the first time since 1994 and they have the best pass defense in the league. But again, it’s not them.

That leaves just one team: Andy Reid and his “Kool-Aide-Colored” Chiefs.

Kansas City leads the Super Bowl Futures odds charge at +135. The SF 49ers can be found around +165 and both the Packers are Titans are sitting at +650. So, Las Vegas has the Chiefs to win, with the 49ers close at second.

But does this mean the Chiefs and their perennial runner-up coach, will win out?

Not necessarily.

Many smart sports handicappers have their picks with the Titans to at least keep the game close enough to cover the point spread Sunday. More like the rolling Titans to win outright.

The same goes for the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers game. The Niners are big favorites, but we are dealing with a team whose recent situation performance shows, they would actually win –but maybe not cover.

So, we have two conference championship games with clear, heavy favorites … that could both lose.

The Chiefs showed us a few things in their incredible Division-Round win over the Houston Texans. The first thing they showed us is that their defense and special teams units are vulnerable. This was made apparent when the Texans went up 24-0 and looked to be dominating the game.

Next, the Chiefs showed us that they can adjust better than anyone. They shook it off and put up 28 points in the second quarter to retake the lead. Then they poured it on in the 3rd and 4th, adding 23 more to the board, showing us that they are still the best second-half team in football.

That said, the Texans are not the Titans. They showed us this season that they really only get consistent wins against sub-500 teams. Houston ranked way back at No. 23 in the league for scoring defense (and way worse in their last 3 games allowing 35 per affair) and 26.7 overall while playing on the road.

The Titans on the other hand, only allow 16.6 points per game on the road. They have a top-ten defense overall and have been absolutely stellar in recent games. In their last 3, they’ve only allowed 13 points per game. KC has allowed 18.3 per game in their most recent three.

On the flip side, the Super Bowl favorite has scored 29 points per game at home and averages the same overall. But, the Titans have upped their average to 25 points per game both overall and on the road. So, we should see a very close game, indeed.

Can the SB LIV favs beat the Titans and go on to win it all in South Florida? Perhaps, but it won’t be easy.

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Titans QB Tannehill on Wednesday- “I wanna win”

Florida Football Insiders

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Titans are readying to play in the AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. And on Wednesday, former Dolphins quarterback now turned Tennessee starting QB, Ryan Tannehill, met with the media about the opportunity for he and his teammates to play their way into Super Bowl 54.

And, Tannehill made something abundantly clear again, it doesn’t matter about his own personal pass attempts or stats, he’s mainly concerned with getting another victory:

“We’ve put in a lot of work to win multiple ways this season. You don’t forget how to throw and catch…. Being a quarterback, I love throwing the ball, but I just wanna win.”

Tannehill has only thrown the ball a total of 29 times with 15 completions in the Titans two playoff wins over the Patriots and the Ravens. So, it’s obvious the Tennessee’s game plan of grinding teams with the run and Derrick Henry bruising them, and, then, playing sound, physical and opportunistic  defense has worked thus far.

However, Tannehill also acknowledged Wednesday that it might be different against the Chiefs, who certainly are more explosive then either New England or Baltimore on offense. The Texans found that out firsthand at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, when their 24 – 0 lead evaporated in the second quarter and Patrick Mahomes and Co. proceeded to put 41 unanswered points on them.

Now, Tennessee’s defense is better than Houston’s overall and it’s one of the big reasons why they’re still alive at this stage of the postseason. Still, Tannehill may be called upon to make a bunch of big throws and plays in this game if the Titans are going to have any chance.

As we wrote previously, he’s had success since taking over for former number 1 pick Marcus Mariota earlier in week seven of the season.

His first start was at home against the Chargers and threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns in a win. Tannehill then led them on a run of winning six of seven starts total. And, in every one of those games, Tannehill threw for either at least 300 yards or for at least two touchdowns or a combo of both.

His play has been consistent, and at times, very good for Tenneessee.

Further, when you total up his 11 games started, Tannehill now has an 8 – 3 record (including these two playoff wins), and he has only one game, a 30 – 20 loss at Carolina in early November, where he had two interceptions.

One, essentially “bad game” in 11 starts.

And, since that November Carolina game, Tannehill has thrown only 3 picks total, while throwing 19 TDs. Oh, and Tennessee is now 7 – 2 over those next nine games.

And, one of those games is the previous win over Kansas City in Nashville on November 10th, when Tannehill threw for 181 yards and two scores and no picks.

Now, they will head to frigid K.C. to play the biggest game of Tanehill’s and several of the young stars on offense’s biggest professional game ever. And, you get the sense that the veteran signal caller whom the Dolphins gave up on this off-season, is ready to throw it 10 times or 40 times to try to get it done.

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