By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Halfway through the second quarter on Sunday, the Redskins' Ladell Betts raced down the sideline as he sprinted 94 yards on a kickoff return for a touchdown, a play that was challenged by Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden, who believed Betts had stepped out of bounds. After reviewing the videotape, referee Bill Vinovich upheld the ruling -- and the Redskins pulled back into the game.
In the final minute of the contest, with the outcome in the balance, the Redskins found themselves on the other side of a replay decision. Officials upheld a call that Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott's two-point conversion run was good, giving the Buccaneers a 36-35 victory.
In the replay era, it is impossible to please everyone, and on Monday Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs was adamant that the system had let his club down on the Alstott conversion as he publicly criticized the officiating on that and three other plays. Yesterday, however, Gibbs said he should not have given such a detailed critique of the referees' calls in the game and that he had telephoned the league to express his regret for doing so.
"I should have said, 'Hey, we've got several things we're going to turn in and want to look at with them,' " Gibbs said. " 'We see it one way, and we'll see how they see it.' That should have been my comments, but I went specifically . . . I went over some things there that you can't."
Gibbs said he has not been informed whether the NFL agreed with his assessment of the two-point conversion or the other calls he brought to their attention, and league sources indicated that a fine for his comments is unlikely. Mike Pereira, league director of officiating, said that from the replays available to Vinovich on the sideline during Sunday's game, the standard of "indisputable visual evidence" was not met on the two-point conversion play.
"It's not clearly indisputable from what I saw," Pereira said. "I cannot see the ball, and those are the same replays the referees were looking at."
Gibbs, who was fined $10,000 last month for remarks about officiating, stressed that, for the drama and occasional controversy that replay sometimes spawns, calls do not dictate winning and losing. "An official is never going to cost us a game, in my opinion," Gibbs said.
While his experiences with the process have included some heartbreak and Washington's repeatedly failed challenges of officials' calls elicited considerable attention last season, Gibbs is hardly alone. A week before the Tampa Bay game, Redskins H-back Mike Sellers lost control of the football while attempting to score a go-ahead touchdown in Washington's 17-10 win over Philadelphia, but officials ruled he had crossed the plane of the goal line before doing so, and Eagles Coach Andy Reid's challenge was unsuccessful.
"These things even out, they really do, and sometimes you get a break," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "I felt like we got a break with Sellers that week, I really do. There's going to be games where you don't get the calls that you want."
Gruden lost two challenges Sunday before the final replay of the game went his way (the NFL on-site review assistant determines whether play should be stopped in the final two minutes of each half for a replay delay). There has been no shortage of close calls in Gibbs's brief second tenure coaching the Redskins.
Coach Norv Turner, a former Redskins coach whose Raiders play the Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field, said he had read Gibbs's comments from Monday and sympathized.
"Everyone tells you those things are going to go both ways and come around your way," Turner said during a media conference call yesterday. "But sometimes you do wonder what you have to do to get that call to go your way."
Overall, the Redskins have been successful on three of their 10 replay challenges under Gibbs, which is on par with the NFL average. Opposing coaches have a worse rate in their challenges against the Redskins the past two seasons, going three for 12. Last season, 38 percent of coaching challenges were successful; the figure was 36 percent in 2003. Through the first nine weeks of the 2005 season, 34 of 111 coaching challenges resulted in an overturn (31 percent). Those numbers reflect the high standard that must be met.
"To me, the mistakes we make on replay all come when we overturn when we shouldn't overturn," Pereira said.
The Redskins were successful on two of seven challenges last season, losing five in a row in one stretch. At the end of the season Larry Hill, a former NFL official who was hired to oversee the club's replay challenges, was let go, with the coaching staff taking over the duties. The Redskins have attempted three challenges this season, getting one call overturned.
The NFL began experimenting with a limited review system from 1986 to '91, coinciding with the end of Gibbs's first coaching stint, and in 1999 the system of referee review on the sidelines was introduced, with coaches allowed to challenge certain plays. Gibbs said he hopes his regular contact with league officials on these matters will result in fewer discrepancies in the future.
"We're all working hard to try to improve it in any way in the league and particularly officiating is a big deal," Gibbs said. "I think we've got very professional people there, and they work hard at it and we need to be a part of helping them and not working against them."
Staff writer Leonard Shapiro contributed to this report.