On Sept. 18 against the Browns, officials took a fumble recovery away from the Packers with a quick whistle. On Sunday against the Buccaneers, officials again got happy with the whistle, blowing it just after quarterback Brian Griese lost the football attempting to pass. Replays in both cases clearly showed that both were fumbles.
Each of the above-mentioned plays was not, by rule, reviewable by a coach's challenge. Once an official blows his whistle, all action stops and the play is ruled dead. The inclusion of replay reviews as a part of the game, however, was created to correct officials' errors, especially those as obvious as the two above. Why the inadvertent whistle rule has not been altered in some manner to prevent such crucial plays from being corrected is a big mystery. It needs to be reviewed this off-season by the league's Competition Committee because such blunders are making the league, and its officials, look bad.
On Sunday, the inadvertent whistle rule had another twist to it. With the Packers trailing 17-13 late in the third quarter, the Buccaneers' began a drive at their own 21-yard line. As Griese looked to pass to his right over the outstretched arms of defensive end Aaron Kampman, he lost the ball, untouched by a defender, when his arm was going backward, for what should have been a fumble. The Packers' Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila recovered the ball and ran into the end zone, only to have officials tell him that the play was blown dead. Packers' coaches, fans, and players alike were disgusted with the ruling and the premature whistle. Mike Sherman challenged the call. The coach explained the ruling the official gave him at his press conference on Monday.
"They ruled it dead, incomplete pass," said Sherman. "Once the whistle is blown, all bets are off the table. The only thing I could do is pick up the yardage, which you have to weigh that, too, because you could possibly lose a challenge, but I thought the yardage, eight yards, was significant at that point on the field. But you can't overturn an inadvertent whistle… Once they blow the whistle, the play is dead. Defensive players stop. They can't overturn that."
The Packers won Sherman's challenge, setting the Buccaneers back seven yards for the muffed play, but did not get the football. The official play-by-play game statistics for the play read, "B. Griese pass incomplete. Play Challenged by GB and REVERSED. B. Griese sacked at TB 14 for -7 yards. FUMBLES, recovered by TB at TB 14." So in effect, the following occurred:
• The Packers were granted a team sack when Griese was never sacked or even touched by any defender.
• Griese was credited with a fumble when there was no fumble because if there was, the ball would have gone over to the Packers.
• The Buccaneers were credited with a fumble recovery when no one from the Buccaneers actually recovered the ball.
• The Packers gained seven yards of field position for a Buccaneers' incomplete pass.
Confused? Anyone would be confused because it does not make any sense! It is not logical nor does it spell out an explanation of what happened! That is precisely why the "inadvertent whistle" rule must be changed.
The play should have been an incomplete pass with no loss of yardage or a fumble recovered by the Packers. It is that simple. Had the officials delayed blowing the whistle, Gbaja-Biamila would have, at the least, recovered the fumble on what was a bang-bang, quick-reaction play. Replays then would have supported a fumble call, the right call, and the Packers likely would have benefited from the change in momentum.
As for the seven yards the Buccaneers lost from the challenge, how can a team lose seven yards for a play that was essentially an incomplete pass because of a blown whistle? The yardage almost seems like a compromise by the officials to the Packers for blowing the call.
If replays cannot overturn a call so blatantly obvious because of an inadvertent whistle, then the coaches' challenge system is useless. Maybe the officials need to take an extra second or two to wait to blow the whistle in such situations or maybe replay reviews should be scrapped all together. After all, knowing that replay reviews are available has given officials a security blanket making them more indecisive than ever with their calls and rulings.
The NFL needs rethink how such matters are officiated. At this time there is no quick fix, but with time there has to be a better solution. One thing, however, is for certain - the Packers are not good enough to overcome their own mistakes, let alone the officials.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.