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THE BAKER BLOG: The NFL needs fixing, now

It’s a Monday morning ritual.

Football fans gather everywhere and talk about not the games, the players nor the plays from the day before, but…..the calls. Why was this pass interference and that wasn’t? He wasn’t offside! How can you call that a hold? Unfortunately, the officials are coming in for the brunt of the criticism when the real problem is an incoherent and unenforceable rule book.

The worst example I’ve ever seen came in yesterday’s playoff-clinching Bills win over Atlanta. The star-crossed Falcons, fighting for their own playoff lives, took advantage of some terrible play by Bills quarterback Josh Allen to take a 15-14 halftime lead. The Bills running game, led by Devin Singletary, gave them a 29-15 lead in the fourth quarter. That’s when, on second and goal at the Bills’ seven, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan scrambled in for a touchdown, diving headfirst into the end zone to make it a one score game. Except, this is the NFL, so, no. First, Referee Land Clark threw a flag on Ryan at the end of the play for taunting. Apparently, Ryan thought he might have been hit late by Bills safety Jordan Poyer. He said something to him.

Saying something to someone you think just popped you on a play where you were going head first into the end zone to make it a one score game and it’s an emotional battle with a playoff berth on the line and you play for the Falcons so you know you’re jinxed anyway = taunting.

Things that don’t equal taunting in the NFL: Doing the first down thing when you catch a six yard pass while trailing 38-14 and your team is 2-10. Flexing when you sack the quarterback. Spinning the football like a top when you score. Doing an eight man choreographed dance number after a TD that makes the Rockettes envious. Bad move, Matty Ice, now you’ve cost your team 15 yards on the kickoff. Except, this is the NFL, so no. No touchdown at all. After a replay review, Ryan was ruled down where his knee touched the ground at the one yard line because he was “giving himself up.”

What in the name of John Madden? He wasn’t giving himself up, he was going low and diving for the end zone. Successfully, I might add. Diving into the end zone headfirst and winding up in possession of the ball two yards into said end zone. Not a touchdown. Hurtling out of bounds at the three while a piece of fuzz on the front point of the football intersects with the shadow of the outside of the pylon? Touchdown, baby!

Ryan gives his perspective here.

Rule one that needs fixing: The quarterback slide. Wanting to protect its marquee players, the league put in the rule allowing a quarterback to slide feet-first when he’s running the ball, ending the play and rendering him immune to being tackled. It doesn’t work. Earlier in the same game, we saw Josh Allen go into a slide and take a hit from a Falcons defender. The defender was flagged for a late hit personal foul, except this time, the replay review allowed the officials to get it right, clearly showing the tackler had lowered his body and had begun to make the tackle before Allen went into the slide. Earlier this year, in a college game, we saw the inevitable abuse of the slide rule, with Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett faking a slide, causing the defenders to back away, at which point he continued his run for a touchdown. It’s not fair to defenders to allow a quarterback to make an instant decision to end the play anytime they want, while expecting the defenders to immediately come to a halt. Let’s make the quarterback yell “down” and immediately stop running, or make some kind of “fair catch” signal? There has to be a better way than the slide.

Rule two that needs fixing: Pass interference. If the rule were enforced as written, there would be pass interference on virtually every pass play. When some are called and some are not, fans lose confidence that they’re watching a fairly competed game. One suggestion is to adopt the college rule, where the maximum length of a defensive pass interference call is 15 yards. More importantly, it’s clear a certain amount of contact needs to be allowed under the rules. Figure out what that level is, call it consistently for an exhibition season and get on with the game.

Rule three that needs fixing: The replay review. All across America, we see the correct result of the play on our 70 inch 4K screens, then the ref goes under the hood and apparently watches the replay on one of these. Stop worrying about hurting the refs’ feelings with overturned calls and let the home office in New York make the call. And stop with the presumption that the call on the field was right, just get it right at the end. I will say one place where video replay has been tremendously helpful is fumble/no fumble calls. Those are very hard to get right in real time.

Rule four that needs fixing: Touchdowns. No more scraping the outside of the pylon. No more “breaking the plane.” Go with the NHL standard, if the whole ball doesn’t cross the whole line, it’s not a score. Better yet, it we would have laughed at you for claiming it was a touchdown in our backyard in 1974, it’s not a touchdown.

Last thing that needs fixing: Someone needs to make those Microsoft Surface tablets Belichick and Brady-proof. Man, one good spike and your play book is toast.

Who’s got Antonio Brown on their fantasy team?