Monday night, the NFL officiating took another hit following the Packers win over Detroit, in which a couple of very controversial calls seemingly gave the game to Green Bay. Two hands-to-the-face fouls on Lion defensive lineman Trey Flowers. Both of them on third down. The first set up a Green Bay touchdown, and the second allowed Green Bay to run the clock down to 2 seconds before Crosby's game-winner. In both cases, replays showed Flowers' hands on the neck or shoulder — not the face — of a Packers lineman.
Tuesday night, Mike Max visited with retired NFL referee Bernie Kukar, who spent 22 season in the league. He started as a back judge and was promoted to referee after 7 seasons. He officiated Super Bowls in 1999 and 2002.
He told Mike that if you're confused by officiating as a fan, so are the actual officials.
"Talking about the two hands to the face calls, and I can tell you there is no way those are penalties, those are false," said Kukar. "But I can also tell you, interestingly enough, what's probably going on here, because I just got off the phone with one of the active officials who was on my crew, and I don't know what game he had, but he was ranting and raving and he said, 'these people up in New York don't know what the heck they're doing!' They got this all screwed up, everybody's confused. They don't know what to call, what not to call. I told him about that game and he said, I can tell you exactly what happened. The guy probably got three or four dings last week and now he's going to pick up on anything that's even right."
Officials are reviewed after each game by the league office and graded based on missed calls that could affect their ability to make a postseason crew, or even keep their current position.
Kukar says, "That's what's happening. You know, if you get too many downgrades in this business, you're not going to get a playoff game. And, or if you get too many, too many consecutive years, you're not going to have a job anymore. So he says this stuff coming out of the league office."
"The officials are totally confused, so they're calling anything now. He (the current official) said we have 35 penalties in our game," said Kukar. "That's impossible. He says because they got drilled the last the week before he's there with, they're calling anything that looks like a foul. In my opinion, what's happened is New York (the league office), and 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 taken common sense out of the game's officiating."
Kukar also discussed the difficulty of including pass interference penalties in challenges and replay. New in 2019 is the ability to challenge pass interference, following the controversial no-call in last year's NFC Championship game between L.A. and New Orleans that ultimately game the Rams an opportunity to win the game in OT.
"First of all, they should never put any penalties in replay. I told you that when you talked to me last time, this is going to open up a whole can of worms and it has. It's confused everybody and they don't know what they can do anymore. They don't know what they can't do. It's just confusing and it's totally, you should never put penalties involved. Where's it going to stop once you open the door to put that kind of thing in there, where's it going to stop next year? What next year? If some team gets shafted on holding call and the team loses as a result of that, are they going to throw holding in there next year?"
Kukar was clearly agitated by the current situation with officiating, saying he talks to current crews who are just as upset with how the league is handling officiating. He told Mike that common sense and experience are not valued anymore.
"They're bringing in guys that probably shouldn't be there yet. I'm not saying at some point in time they're not going to be good officials but they're bringing them in too early. They don't have enough college experience. That's where part of the problem is. These guys that were put on there in at back judge are guys that make the game deciding calls. So I saw so many young guys, they were calling these things when that should not have been called. It was totally ridiculous and they're still doing it. I got off the phone, like I said, with my old side judge. He has been doing this twenty-some years and he's got guys telling him 'Oh, I should call pass interference'. Oh great. They've only been in the league office for like 2 or 3 years!"