Roger Goodell gave his annual State of the NFL address to reporters today, speaking for over 45 minutes about the 2022 season and where the league goes from here. It took nearly 40 minutes for someone to ask but Goodell was questioned about the NFL’s officiating that’s led to controversial calls in key moments. But Goodell stood by the referees and the product the league’s putting out there, saying things are better than they’ve ever been.
“When you look at officiating, I don’t think it’s ever been better in the league,” he said earlier Wednesday.
There are a whole lot of fans who would disagree with that. The biggest black eye this year came in the AFC Title game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs where there were several missed and questionable calls by the refs throughout the game. In one instance, the Chiefs got an extra down after the officials flubbed the game clock. After a failed third down play, the Chiefs’ offense walked off the field only for head ref Ron Tolbert to come on the field and award a replay of the down due to the game clock running after an incomplete pass. A rudimentary mistake that wouldn’t be acceptable in the preseason, much less in a playoff game that determined who would go to the Super Bowl.
Luckily, the Chiefs didn’t take advantage of the opportunity and they didn’t convert their extra third down, leading them to punt. But Kansas City went on to win the game, winning the penalty battle 9-4.
But Goodell pivoted to the macro point that overall, officials don’t make many mistakes.
“There are over 42,000 plays in a season. Multiple infractions could occur on any play, take that out or extrapolate that. That’s hundreds if not millions of potential fouls. And our officials do an extraordinary job of getting those.”
In fairness to the officials, roughing the passer numbers were way down in 2022. In 2021, there were 154 such calls. In 2022, that number dropped to just 93. Defensive pass interference also dropped year-to-year, from 303 in 2021 to 233 in 2022. League-wide, the game was less penalized. 3339 flags two years ago down to 3145 this season.
While Goodell admitted officials will never be perfect, he discussed increased eyes and technology to support officiating and limit the number of mistakes, especially game-changing ones. For years, media members have discussed the need for the NFL to hire full-time refs though the idea has been met with mixed results from the league and officials themselves.
Despite the criticism, Goodell remained adamant the league is on track.
“We think our officials are doing a great job.”
Goodell is probably in the minority with his opinion. But his is the only one that counts.