We've seen a whole lot of prime-time games hijacked by officiating this year. Last week, a sketchy Sunday of officiating was topped by a "make it up as we go along" effort by the Monday Night Football crew.
By the end of that one, the Lions had gotten jobbed, the legend of Aaron Rodgers (despite getting a couple of critical mulligans) had grown and the league's "brain trust" was left sweeping up the wreckage the next day at the owner's meetings in Fort Lauderdale.
It's standard operating procedure, unfortunately. Officials are given an offseason list of rules to "emphasize" after years of letting the boys play. Next thing you know, flags are flying both for real violations and imagined ones.
This year it's holding. There's also a dash of hands to the face. And, of course, there have been creative interpretations of the pass interference penalty with blatant restrictive contact not called (and not overturned on review) and incidental, no harm-no foul bumping drawing flags.
Shawn Hochuli, Son of Guns, is the head referee Monday night when the Patriots and Jets square off.
His last game was Texans-Chiefs in Kansas City and it was a blizzard of yellow. Houston drew 11 penalties, the Chiefs had 10. The game before that, Hochuli's crew threw 16 flags in total – 12 against the Chargers – in a game between LA and Denver.
Earlier this season, Hochuli was the ref for a Thursday night game between the Jags and Titans that got so absurd with the flags, Tom Brady took to social media to air his opinion.
"Too many penalties. Just let us play!!!! #TENvsJAC," was Brady's first tweet.
His second, "I'm turning off this game I can't watch these ridiculous penalties anymore #TENvsJAC."
The last time the Patriots played the Jets in New York, Hochuli had the game. There were 11 flags on the Patriots and eight on the Jets. The following week, his crew threw another 21 flags.
I asked Brady on Saturday whether an officiating crew's recent history is part of the pregame preparation.
"Coach talks about that," Brady allowed. "He talks about kind of what they call and so forth. This particular crew may call a lot of holdings or a lot of defensive pass penalties, so we do discuss that. I mean, once you get out there, I think you do business as business is being done. Sometimes they call it a little tighter, sometimes they let you play a little bit. But, football, there's kind of penalties on every play. It's just a matter of whether they call them or not. So, if they're calling it tight, then you just have to be cognizant of that."
Hochuli's crew has been going crazy with the holding penalties this season. They have 52 holding flags in six games. By contrast, Bill Vinovich's crew has 15 in five games.
I asked Brady if he gets attuned to how a game is being called.
"I think that happens," he agreed. "It's probably the middle of the second quarter, you start to feel that. If there start to be a lot of penalties there in the first quarter, then the game gets a little slower, but yeah, you feel it."
Legendary NFL official Bernie Kukar spoke to a Minnesota radio station last week in the wake of the Packers-Lions debacle and said that the constant backseat driving from the league office and Competition Committee has officials running blind.
"They're calling anything now … because [a crew] got drilled the week before they're calling anything that looks like a foul," said Kukar. "In my opinion, what's happened is New York - I don't know if it's coming from the commissioner or if it's coming from the Competition Committee or if it's coming from the coaches or where - but they've taken common sense out of the game relating to officiating."
Whatever the reason, penalties are up, Hochuli's crew is at the forefront of the flag-happy movement and this is the first time Hochuli's done a Patriots game since Brady put his crew on blast. It's an interesting Monday night subplot.
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