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The 22 players on the field and possibly a small handful of coaches on the sideline should be the ones to decide an NFL game. However, the referee and the six other people on the field wearing black and white often have an outsized impact in the game, as they did in the Los Angeles Rams‘ victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2022 Super Bowl.

Super Bowl 56 was generally a clean game, and the officials did a generally good job staying out of the way and making the right calls when needed. Although, in several of the biggest spots of the game, the officiating crew screwed up, and former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira called them out for it after the game.

The referees influenced the Super Bowl outcome 

Tee Higgins of the Cincinnati Bengals catches the ball over Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams for a touchdown in the third quarter during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The play was a missed call by referee Ron Torbert's crew.
Tee Higgins and Jalen Ramsey | Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images.

During the 2022 Super Bowl, there were only six accepted penalties for 41 yards. If you take out the uniquely boneheaded decision by inactive Cincinnati Bengals player Vernon Hargreaves III to run on the field and celebrate with his teammates while wearing flip-flops and a sweatshirt, you’re looking at five normal penalties for 31 yards.

That said, at least one of those penalties — along with a rather obvious non-call — changed the dynamics of the game.

The first blown call was on the opening play of the second half. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow found Tee Higgins up the left sideline 30 yards downfield. LA Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey fell down on the play, and Higgins scampered to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.

On the replay, it’s clear that Ramsey didn’t fall. Higgins clearly grabbed the CB’s facemask and dragged him down. That play flipped the score and gave Cincinnati a 17-13 lead.

The other questionable call came with 1:47 to go in the fourth quarter. The Rams had the ball on a 3rd-and-goal from the 8-yard line. LA QB Matthew Stafford threw short to Cooper Kupp over the middle, and Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson dove in front of the wide receiver and knocked the ball away.

While the Bengals were celebrating the stop, a flag came from 13 yards away in the back of the end zone. The officials called a ticky-tack holding call on Wilson, giving the Rams a fresh set of downs from the 4-yard line.

After two more plays — both involving penalties called on the Bengals (and one offsetting call on the Rams) — LA scored the game-winning touchdown.

FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira blasted the two calls

Former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira discussed the Super Bowl officiating after the game as part of his role as a rules analyst for FOX.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to talk about officiating?” Pereira asked in the video. “But we must because there were a couple of big calls.”

The former college referee and NFL official noted the Tee Higgins touchdown and the Logan Wilson holding penalty as the most significant blunders by referee Ron Torbert’s crew. He called Higgins’ score a “missed facemask, offensive pass interference” and said of the call on Wilson, “It’s just not holding.”

Pereira then discussed the idea of makeup calls by officials:

They’ll talk about the two plays, and two wrongs don’t make a right. And it’s a myth. Makeup calls are a myth. But, in fact, when you look at those two plays — one Cincinnati’s way, one the Rams way — it’s a shame that we do have to talk about that. But that’s the nature of officiating.

Mike Pereira on bad calls by officials in the Super Bowl

The former NFL officiating executive also talked about what a clean, well-officiated game the Super Bowl was overall. That said, he did sum up by admitting, “There were two breakdowns that will lead to all of the discussion.”

Pereira is right. Overall, it was a well-called game. It just goes to show you, though, that all it takes is one or two calls at vital moments for the officials to impact an NFL game.

The bad calls didn’t lose the game for Cincinnati, but LA did make out


Zac Taylor’s Inexperience Cost the Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl 56

Yes, the Tee Higgins no-call did happen on a touchdown play, but there were also nearly 30 minutes to go in the game. The Logan Wilson/Cooper Kupp call happened with under two minutes left, making it an inherently more prominent lousy call.

Also, on top of the two calls Mike Pereira identified as game-changers, two others had a massive impact on the game.

The first was the LA Rams offensive line’s false start on the Wilson/Kupp play. A video of center Brian Allen holding the snap while the rest of the line started pass-blocking went viral on Twitter after the game.

A false start would have stopped the play, thus negating the defensive holding, and set the Rams up with a 3rd-and-goal from the 18-yard line.

The other call was the unnecessary roughness between the Wilson hold and the (entirely justifiable) Eli Apple pass interference. The head-to-head hit penalty was questionable at best and negated a holding call on the Rams, which would have pushed their offense back to a much more difficult 1st-and-goal from the 14-yard line.

In the end, the players on the field either did or didn’t make the plays needed to win, but, unfortunately, in two small spurts in the second half, the NFL’s lackluster refereeing showed up one last time during the 2021 season.

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