It was the officiating crew "led" by Ken Roan that proved to be a complete disaster in last Monday night's game between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos, and it was Roan's crew which made perhaps the most embarrassing series of mistakes in a day of football that was nearly overwhelmed by them.
Roan, who tried to corral a group of refs that seemingly would be under-qualified for junior high games, stood around while a series of meltdowns happened between the Broncos and Falcons, couldn't quite figure out what a spot foul was on two different occasions and frustrated coaches John Fox and Mike Smith to the point where the NFL felt that it had to step in and insist that coaches should stop hurting the feelings of the refs foisted upon us by the lockout of the real officials.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, another one of the violators who was sternly advised, was incensed by Roan's crew early in Sunday's 24-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, when Roan called an illegal block ... on the kicking team. Unsure in retrospect how a kicking team could block in the first place, Roan tried to cover his backside by saying that "By rule, there is no flag on the play."
Technically, there's no blocking in this case, but we quibble.
Roan's crew really started to mess things up in the fourth quarter. With 3:33 left, according to the excellent recap provided by ESPN's Kevin Seifert, the 49ers had called a timeout after a 3-yard run by Vikings running back Toby Gerhart. However, Harbaugh threw a challenge flag after he noticed on replays that Gerhart may have fumbled, and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis landed on the ball.
The problem was, the 49ers had just used their last timeout, and you need a timeout remaining to challenge a call. After the game, Roan detailed what happened next, when Harbaugh sidled over to him and mounted a pretty impressive con.
"Hey, this is something that I want to challenge, but I just used my last timeout, can I challenge and get my timeout back? How does that work?'
"He asked the guys on the side and they came over and got me," Roan added. "What I told him was, 'Well you challenged it not knowing what the result of the play was going to be.' So I granted him the challenge and we went and looked at it. That was wrong. I should not have. In order to do that, he has to have two timeouts left."
Uh ... no, Ken. You just need the one. Perhaps Roan thought the 49ers DID have two timeouts left, because Harbaugh got another free challenge a few plays later. Unbelievably, Roan let him do it.
Perhaps the worst part of this debacle -- it had no real impact on the game -- was the time it took. Between discussing it between themselves, discussing it between the Special Officiating Supervisor the replacements need even though the NFL tells us that they're perfectly fine, and explaining their ridiculous rulings to both coaches, this game could have easily gone until Tuesday but for the fact that even Roan eventually realized how many timeouts a team should have in a half.
According to Kevin Lynch of SFGate.com, it took about 25 minutes to execute a four-play series.
And that would be bad enough if the refs got the calls right. Sadly, the more time these discussions take, the further down the rabbit hole we go.
"Well, I think the fact that we have to talk about it after every game is something right there," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said about the officiating in general after the game. "I don't think in my seven-year career that I've had to do that ever. So that probably tells you the story right there."
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