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Roger Goodell says NFL must ‘do everything to improve officiating’

NFL officiating controversies have persisted this season. (AP Photo/David Richard)
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the missed call, already acknowledged by the league as a mistake, in Monday night’s Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers game was “tough,” adding that the sport’s leaders must remain committed to doing everything possible to improve the quality and consistency of officiating.

But Goodell also said that he believes officiating becomes a major topic of discussion at some point during every NFL season and that it’s not a problem unique to football. During a season in which officiating controversies have remained prevalent, Goodell also said he believes the new system making pass interference calls and non-calls reviewable by instant replay is functioning about as originally intended.

NFL admits mistake in Lions-Packers game, as outrage over officiating grows

Replay for pass interference wasn’t the issue Monday night, though, when the Lions suffered a loss at Green Bay on a field goal as time expired after the Packers had their winning drive extended by a hands-to-the-face penalty called on Detroit defensive lineman Trey Flowers. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, acknowledged Tuesday that the call was incorrect.

“Officiating is always a focus for us,” Goodell said Wednesday at the conclusion of a two-day NFL owners’ meeting. “I joke, but I’m not joking: I think I’m close to 40 years [in the league], and I think there’s always a two- or three-week period where there’s an intense focus on it. But, listen, you never want to see a game where people are talking about officials afterwards. It was a great football game played by two great teams. ... It’s tough. It’s tough to be in that situation.”

Attempting to eliminate such game-changing officiating gaffes, Goodell said, remains a top priority for Vincent and Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating.

“We have to do everything to improve officiating,” Goodell said. “Al’s team and Troy and everyone, we’re all focusing on how do we continue to prepare our officials, obviously using technology when we can. But that’s sports. You see it in every sport. We’ve seen it over the last several months. So I know when you go to other press conferences, you ask the same question.”

No matter what the NFL does, its officiating headaches just won’t go away

The officiating in the Lions-Packers game amplified the public conversation about the NFL’s officiating that has been ongoing. The scrutiny intensified following the missed pass interference call in last season’s NFC championship game in New Orleans in January that sent the Los Angeles Rams rather than the Saints to the Super Bowl.

“We’re only six games into the season,” Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II said Wednesday. “Hopefully things will even out. We passed a rule that was a controversial rule. We’re going to try it for one year, and we’ll see how that goes.”

The officiating blunder in the NFC title game led the owners, at the behest of coaches, to ratify a rule in March making interference calls and non-calls subject to instant replay review.

In the early stages of this season, coaches and other observers have been critical about a lack of consistency, in their view, to the interference-related replay rulings being made by Riveron. Replay reversals of on-field interference rulings have been increasingly rare as the season has progressed.

But people familiar with the league’s thinking previously said that NFL leaders believed the system, while imperfect, was functioning about as intended and that the onus is on coaches to adjust. Goodell’s comments Wednesday seemed to reflect that viewpoint.

NFL coaches are griping about the new pass interference rule. The league isn’t panicking — yet.

“This is something we spent a great deal of time on back during the March period, something that the coaches felt very strongly [about]. I think they understood that replay was not going to correct every ... pass interference close call. We’re not over-officiating here. … And we’re not re-officiating these plays. The thought process was to correct the obvious and clear error. So I think the numbers reflect that. If it’s something close and there’s not obvious and clear evidence, it’s going to stay the way it was called on the field. ...

“But as you know, whenever there’s a rule change, there’s a period of adaption," Goodell continued. "There’s also a period where people are testing, the coaches are testing, to see what types of changes are going to be made. ... And I think it’s settling out where we expected.”

Owners approved the new replay system on only a one-year basis, meaning it will be up for reconsideration after this season. Rooney said it’s too soon to draw conclusions.

“You’ve got to give it the whole year,” Rooney said, “and see how it goes.”