There’s a universal slogan for professional sports officials who make suspect moves, “C’mon Ref!”
A chorus of the statement more than likely cascaded around Heinz Field and in living rooms worldwide yesterday for Monday Night Football, during the Bears 29-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Facts!!!! That’s was absurd. That player if the show was on the other foot would have been thrown out the game, suspended, fined and depending on the player possibly CUT from the team. 🤦🏾♂️ https://t.co/72n3ZlmWg0
— LeBron James (@KingJames) November 9, 2021
In the hot seat, Referee Tony Corrente.
Although the Steelers avoided a possible drive from Chicago during the last seconds, the Steelers benefitted from questionable calls during the game.
Justin Fields aired it out all night, averaging 15.6 air yards per attempt (2nd-most by any QB in a game this season).
His 7 completions on balls 15+ yards downfield are tied for the most by a Bears QB over the past 15 seasons. pic.twitter.com/PslBNt2D9a
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 9, 2021
The calls gave the Bears their fourth straight loss, and the football world was aflutter with speculation of over-officiating and just plain wrong calls.
The first of two controversial calls came early in the third quarter when Bears quarterback Justin Fields seemed to complete a short touchdown for one yard to TE Jimmy Graham. However, that’s not what the refs saw.
The refs walked back the play, citing a contact below the waist penalty against Bears Guard James Daniels. The reversal felt borderline wrong, and referee Tony Corrente clarified his position to the Professional Football Writers of America post-game pool.
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) November 9, 2021
“The new rule this year is there should be no contact below the waist to any player outside of the tight end box,” said Corrente. “And this player initiated low contact to a player outside the tight end box.”
However, the call disregarded a few key elements. Daniels seemed to be inside the tight end box, so why the whistle? In addition, Daniels never made contact with the player during the block attempt. In what part of the game do you receive a penalty for a foul you don’t even commit?
Still, live on Monday Night Football, the call stood, and Corrente did not back down.
“I have to judge that there was contact, and that’s what I judged,” said Corrente to the PFWA pool.
However, the refs were not finished or done messing with the Bears.
During a sack of Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Rothlisberger on third-down, Cassius Marsh was flagged for allegedly taunting Big Ben.
That call resulted in an automatic Pittsburgh first down. It put Coach Mike Tomlin’s team within field goal range instead of the customary punt back to the opposing team.
That was a significant setback for Chicago. Although Marsh did make movement approaching the Pittsburgh bench, was that a taunt? The question that lingered around the play: why charge Marsh with something he didn’t do?
Over-Policing The Game?
Are you starting to notice a theme here? The referees and the rules have evolved over the years to protect the players and ensure fair play; however, are the refs too involved in this particular game?
— Andrew Carter (@LetItFlyAndrew) November 9, 2021
Marsh made contact with Corrente after the play, leading to speculation that the penalty was personal — to add another layer of suspicion.
“First of all, keep in mind that taunting is a point of emphasis this year,” Corrente said to the PFWA pool. “And with that said, I saw the player, after he made a big play, run toward the bench area of the Pittsburgh Steelers and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them.”
“That had nothing to do with it,” said Corrente of Marsh’s contact with him. “It was the taunting aspect.”
Micro To Macro Rule Aggressions
In all, Chicago was on the receiving end of 12 penalty calls and lost 115 penalty yards. To put that in perspective, Pittsburgh received only five penalties and lost 30 penalty yards.
Just before being hit with a decisive taunting penalty in the Bears' 29-27 loss on Monday, Chicago linebacker Cassius Marsh said he was "hip-checked" by referee Tony Corrente https://t.co/JwwyCrUyOT pic.twitter.com/ihYvbYQbHo
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) November 9, 2021
Justin Fields had phenomenal game. He completed 17 of 29, passing for 291 yards. He also had a touchdown, one interception, and rushed for 45 yards on eight attempts. Looks like Chicago has found its QB.
However, the Chicago Bears faithful felt the refs did their team dirty in Pittsburgh. The broader issue is the blame of a referee when a questionable call is made.
The sanctity and fair-play trust within a game depend on transparency. Still, the Monday Night Football feature opened up a Pandora’s Box of fan micro-aggressions that could turn into officiant conduct reviews.