The NFL Has A Referee Problem And It Reared Its Ugly Head During Both Games On Championship Sunday

The NFL's Conference Championship Sunday has come and gone. As usual, there were plenty of fireworks by the teams ... and by NFL referees.

Seemingly no NFL game is complete these days without some kind of monumental and controversial decision by game officials.

It started early on Sunday, too, with the referees missing an incomplete pass on a fourth down from Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith. Officials ruled it complete, the Eagles got a first down and scored two plays later. They never trailed in the game.

Though the game was hardly decided entirely by that call, it certainly affected the outcome. We could play the "what if" game all day long, but there's no need.

And, that was hardly the only poor referee decision in the contest, but since the game got out of hand rather early, most people probably didn't notice the others.

Then, in the second game of the day, more officiating problems. NFL referees awarded the Kansas City Chiefs a "do-over" on a failed third down because of a clock issue that only one official noticed. No one heard that official stop the play and the game went on.

Then, the play was effectively cancelled and the Chiefs were given another shot. And the Bengals got called for a penalty on the "do-over" which awarded the Chiefs a first down, even though Mahomes got sacked.

Later, refs missed TWO blatant block-in-the-back fouls against the Chiefs on the punt return that set them up for the game-winning drive.

First, the one on Chiefs special teamer #23, Josh Williams:

Then, a second one on #47, Darius Harris. Neither called.

On Patrick Mahomes' scramble that ultimately got the the team into field goal range -- thanks to a late hit penalty -- Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown held Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson not just once, but twice.

No call.

An argument can be made that Trey Smith held BJ Hill, too, but the Hendrickson no call was more egregious.

The NFL has a referee issue

This may sound like sour grapes from a Bengals bettor (guilty), but I spoke to friends and family who watched the game. Most of them had no rooting interest, but all relayed a similar sentiment: "Boy, it seems like the NFL and/or the referees want the Chiefs to win."

Is that true? I don't know. But #NFLRigged trended on Twitter after the AFC Championship game. Is that fair? Probably not.

But when we're talking about millions of dollars at stake in these games, even the idea floating around that it could be true is a problem for the NFL.

And, I'm not a professional lip reader, but Bengals head coach Zac Taylor appeared to mouth "it's rigged" after the Chiefs game-winning field goal. He may not have. But it does look like it.

Decide for yourself:

Time to institute the Sky Judge

Putting into place a Sky Judge position on every NFL referee crew is one potential solution.

Essentially, every game would have an unaffiliated official in the stadium whose sole purpose is to watch the game and replays and immediately let on-field referees know of a mistake.

That would addresses a couple problems. First, it would help alleviate some of the concerns about fairness. Second, it would expedite replays and mitigate the use of the coach's challenge.

Instead of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan having to throw a challenge flag on a play occurring 50 yards from where he's standing, the Sky Judge would alert the crew to pause the game because DeVonta Smith may not have caught the football.

One look at the replay could have changed the course of that entire game.

The Sky Judge idea has been raised several times, but always either gets voted down or withdrawn from the table. It's unclear who is against the idea, or why.

They need to allow that referee to adjust blatant penalty calls, as well, including roughing the passer.

Not the first consequential games affected by NFL referees

The Seahawks Week 18 victory that knocked the Lions out of playoff contention also had its share of officiating controversies.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that several of his highly-connected sources within the league complained about the refereeing in that one.

One of his sources said it was the "worst officiated game of the year." Another said, "There's a real groundswell of unhappiness with officiating that is much deeper than I’ve seen and frankly, I haven’t seen in this league in years."

The NFL has an officiating problem. They can't solve it in one offseason.

But they should at least look like they're trying.