NFL officiating at midseason: Fewer flags, more offense and less controversy … but looming consequences?

  • national NFL writer
  • NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

The wrong team was about to win. Seattle Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf, his path cleared by a blatant hold, was on his way to a 48-yard touchdown in overtime during a Week 7 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Two officials stood at close range and, in step with a theme of the 2020 NFL season, did not throw a flag. Instead, umpire Roy Ellison — trailing the play from a position that rarely makes that call — rescued the crew by throwing his own.

The Cardinals ultimately won, 37-34, on a field goal with 15 seconds remaining in overtime, capping a thrilling prime-time event and encapsulating one of the most impactful trends of the first half of the season. The NFL’s directive to throw fewer flags hasn’t backfired, even if it has required a veteran save at times. Instead, it has pulled the glare away from an officiating department that absorbed heavy criticism for much of the past decade, all while generating a product that is at least superficially more aesthetic.

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