NFL Referees Should Be Fired For Making These Ridiculous Calls

Darren - October 14, 2022

NFL Referees Should Be Fired For Making These Ridiculous Calls

Darren - October 14, 2022

NFL players and fans maintain a tense at best relationship with officials. Of course, referees play a crucial role because they help keep athletes safe and ensure they play the game fairly. But sometimes they make ridiculous decisions that cost teams dearly and infuriate viewers.

So today we’ll check out some of the most controversial officiating decisions in NFL history. These calls often knocked franchises out of the playoffs by costing them games. Sometimes they even set cataclysmic events in motion yet the referees still didn’t experience any punishments.

BottleGate (2001)

There’s a reason why glass bottles don’t appear at NFL games anymore. The league experienced a harsh lesson in 2001 after enraged Cleveland fans went crazy. The Browns faced Jacksonville in Week 14 and knew that a win would earn them a playoff spot. Everything was on the line but the referees had another plan.

Tim Couch threw a pass to Quincy Morgan and progressed forward. But then one of the most ridiculous decisions in NFL history went down as the officials ruled against the Browns. Their fans launched every missile they could find onto the field and secured their place in infamy (via Fansided).

Phantom Roughing The Passer (2022)

Chris Jones pulled an excellent strip sack and fumble recovery off of Derek Carr in a Monday Night clash with the Raiders in Week 5 of the 2022 season. Or at least, that’s what everybody in the arena except for referee Carl Cheffers thought. He nearly ignited a riot in Arrowhead Stadium when he said Jones roughed Carr by hardly landing on him.

It was one of several roughing-the-passer calls from the same weekend in 2022. Referees may have felt on edge after a controversial incident involving Tua Tagovailoa. However, they took their protection of quarterbacks to the extreme and this didn’t help (via Sports Illustrated).

Calvin Johnson Rule (2010)

Chicago defeated the Lions in 2010 but it could have been very different. Detroit is possibly the unluckiest franchise in the NFL and appears many times on this list. In this case, the league coined a new phrase because of an incident in the game. Calvin Johnson scored a touchdown but the officials ruled that it was an incomplete pass.

They said that the ball left his hand after it touched the ground. This ignited a massive debate over what constituted a catch and the NFL intervened to clarify matters. Incredibly, everything must be perfectly explained or there will be drama. Welcome to the NFL (via NBC Sports).

Sports Illustrated

The Immaculate Reception

We all know about Franco Harris’s iconic game-winning touchdown against the Raiders in the AFC Divisional Round. This remains one of the most polarizing plays in NFL history because there’s a strong argument that it was against the rules. However, this was before the dawn of video replays and advanced technology.

Sports Illustrated

It appeared that the ball touched the ground before Harris snatched it and ran it in for a brilliant score. But the officials didn’t spot this moment as it happened in real-time. Harris played until the whistle and secured the victory for the Steelers. In the end, that’s what everybody remembers (via

Polamalu’s Interception (2005)

Troy Polamalu made a lot of great interceptions in his career, but he should have had one more. The problem is that he did the work but the officials took it away from him. The Steelers played the Colts in a clash of two classic NFL franchises. But the officials made one of the most ridiculous decisions of the year.

Polamalu intercepted a Peyton Manning pass in the divisional game but the referee overturned it. Later, the NFL admitted that Pete Morelli made a big mistake but the damage was done. Fortunately, Pittsburgh held firm and didn’t allow this to prevent them from winning (via Post-Gazette).

The Snow Ball Game (1985)

San Francisco traveled to an icy Mile High Stadium to play the Broncos in 1985. Denver took the lead in the snowy conditions but the Niners had the chance to level with a field goal. Amazingly, the kick never happened because of a ludicrous moment that changed the game (via Bleacher Report).

A fan threw a snowball and caused the holder, Matt Cavanaugh, to fumble the ball. The play dissipated and San Francisco lost the game. Later, the NFL admitted that the referee made a mistake because it was blatant fan interference. It was one of the most ridiculous decisions of the season.

Phantom Roughing The Passer 2 (2022)

Everybody agrees that football is a dangerous sport and that it’s important to protect players, especially quarterbacks. But it’s also important to note that they’re not made of glass. Somebody should tell Jerome Boger this because he infamously makes roughing the passer calls like they’re going out of fashion.

The controversial referee made one call against the Ravens as they hosted the Bills. This proved to be a decisive moment because the Bills scored the winning field goal soon after. It was a frustrating moment for Baltimore because they didn’t deserve to lose this way (via Audacy).

Missed Passed Interference (2002)

There’s nothing worse for football fans than when the NFL admits that they got it wrong. It gives the franchise the moral high ground because they can point their finger at the officials. But it’s too late to change anything and this can have detrimental consequences. The Giants came off at the wrong end of one of the worst ridiculous decisions of 2002.

San Francisco completed a 24-point comeback but they shouldn’t have won the game. The officials should have called pass interference against the Niners because there was an illegal receiver on the field. But they didn’t and they achieved the victory to break Giants’ hearts (via AP News).

Slapped Brady’s Pads (2019)

Tom Brady appears several times on this list because referees enjoy protecting the veteran quarterback. We’re not trying to start any conspiracies because we don’t need to. In 2019 the Chiefs played the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game when Brady got a dodgy roughing the passer call. The aforementioned Chris Jones slapped his pad as he threw the ball.

Some parents hit their children harder than Chris Jones touched Brady but he still received the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes didn’t enjoy the same treatment from the officials. It was one of the most ridiculous decisions of the season, but this is the NFL (via SBNation).

The Tuck Rule (2002)

The Raiders still bear a grudge against Tom Brady because of the “Tuck Rule” incident. Brady admits that he fumbled the ball but it didn’t matter in the end because he came off on the right side. Charles Woodson tackled Brady and caused him to fumble the ball before Oakland’s Greg Biekert recovered it.

However, officials reviewed the play and judged that Brady attempted to tuck the ball under his body. They judged this to be an incomplete pass and moved the Patriots into field goal range. Then Adam Vinatieri stepped up and hit the winning kick. It was a tough blow for the Raiders and they came off worse for wear (via CBS Sports).

Incomplete Completion (2021)

The Bills faced the Colts in their first playoff game for 25 years in 2021. In the end, they escaped with a win but they knew that the officials almost cost them a win. Buffalo felt aggrieved because of one of the most ridiculous decisions of the year. This nearly cost them a place in the Divisional Round.

Luckily, they sealed the victory but the referee didn’t help. The Colts’ Zach Pascal fumbled the ball and Sean McDermott demanded a review. Somehow the wise men in zebra shirts decided to give Indy the ball. They failed to score from the resulting drive and the Bills breathed a sigh of relief (via USA Today Sports).

Overtime Heartbreak (2021)

There’s a strong argument to be made that Detroit is the unluckiest franchise in the NFL. They’ve been on the wrong end of so many ridiculous mistakes including this one against Baltimore. The Ravens scored a game-winning field goal but the referees should have penalized them.

The officials failed to flag them for the delay of the game despite an extra two seconds ticking by. Then Justin Tucker sealed the deal with a 66-yard field goal to win the game. It was heartbreaking for the Lions because they gave everything but it still wasn’t enough (via Fansided).

Another Catch (1998)

The Catch II was one of the most controversial but exciting plays of the ’90s. It saw the Niners snatch a victory over the Packers in the dying moments of the game. However, it should never have stood because Jerry Rice fumbled the ball. But the referees missed this incident and allowed play to continue.

In the end, it was very costly for the Packers because they suffered a cruel defeat. Sometimes that’s the way it goes but the circumstances made this even more dramatic. It went down in history because of the high stakes as it took place in the NFC Wild Card Game (via

Holy Roller (1978)

“I fumbled it on purpose,” Ken Stabler admitted after the Raiders defeated the Chargers. “Yes, I was trying to fumble.” Unfortunately, Chargers fans didn’t appreciate his honesty because they lost the game. But the ‘Holy Roller’ became one of the most infamous plays in NFL history.

Technically, this wasn’t an officiating error because the rules didn’t prevent this at the time. However, the NFL rewrote the book after this to prevent it from happening again. It still deserves a place on this list because of the shady nature of the play and the drama it created (via Pro Football HOF).

No Interference (2014)

It means a lot to Detroit fans when their team reaches the playoffs because it doesn’t happen very often. They had a decent roster in 2014 when they faced the Cowboys in the Wild Card Round. However, they suffered a cruel loss against the most popular team in the U.S. in controversial circumstances.

Detroit should have had a first down after pass interference from Anthony Hitchens. It was blatant to everybody in the stadium and watching on TV except for the officials. Even the NFL admitted that they got it wrong after the game but it was too late for the long-suffering Lions (via SBNation).

Sports Illustrated

Field Goal Fail (1965)

These days it’s almost impossible for referees to misidentify a field goal because of all the technology involved. They have access to video replays and other modes that make it easy for them to see. But they weren’t around in 1965 when the Colts suffered a controversial loss to the Packers in the Western Conference playoff final.

Don Chandler’s 22-yard field goal went wide-right but the referee didn’t think so as he confirmed the score. This justifiably enraged Don Shula but there was nothing that he could do about it. This leveled the game before the Packers proceeded to win (via Green

Fake Fumble (2016)

Cleveland played the Redskins in 2016 but they couldn’t catch a break if their lives depended on it. One incredible moment saw them recover a fumble but Washington still got the ball. This was even though Duke Johnson made a recovery for the Browns (via CBS Sports).

The officials didn’t think so and awarded possession to the Redskins. It was an egregious decision that infuriated the Cleveland fanbase because they had a dreadful season. In the end, the officials moved on with their lives but this had a direct effect on the Browns’ season.

No Liability (2021)

NFL officials have a tough job and carry a lot of pressure but they don’t suffer many consequences for bad decisions. Many fans called for the referee to receive a suspension after one of the most ridiculous decisions of the 2021 season. The Jets played the Bengals when the official called Mike Hilton for unnecessary roughness.

It was ludicrous because Hilton took the brunt of the hit, not the Jets’ running back. But somehow the official thought that it was correct to punish Hilton and Cincinnati. These moments can change the outcome of an entire season so they have a responsibility to make the right call (via The Spun).

No Clipping (2003)

Denver fans still consider this to be one of the most ridiculous mistakes they’ve encountered. Everybody knows that referees have a tough job but nobody wants to endure a poor call like this one. Clipping is a common offense but it’s obvious when it happens (via Bleacher Report).

There were at least two clipping incidents before Dante Hall’s punt return but the officials didn’t think so. It didn’t matter that the video replay made this more obvious than bad plastic surgery. In the end, the Broncos suffered the consequences but it wasn’t fair.

Phantom Touchdown (1998)

Imagine thinking that a player’s helmet was the ball. That’s exactly the mistake that a referee made during the Jets’ game against Seattle in 1998. Vinny Testaverde scored the game-winning touchdown but it was very controversial. That’s because the ball never crossed the line but the officials made a key error.

This decisive moment went down as one of the most ridiculous decisions ever. The five-yard sneak secured the victory for New York but, amazingly, they allowed it to stand. Testaverde didn’t do anything wrong but he was never going to complain about it (via

Renfro’s Touchdown (1980)

It’s safe to say that it was a matter of when the Oilers departed Houston, not if. However, one of the most ridiculous decisions ever didn’t help lengthen their stay in Texas. Dan Pastorini found Mike Renfro for a game-tying touchdown against the Steelers (via 247 Sports).

Sports Illustrated

The referee decided that Renfro was out of bounds when he made the catch but this wasn’t true. In his defense, this was before the age of video replay so he didn’t have this option to fall back on. But that didn’t impress Bum Phillips who blew up and argued with the officials.

Thanksgiving Coin Fail (1998)

The Steelers met the Lions on Thanksgiving Day in a game that fans would never forget. However, this wasn’t for a good reason because referee Phil Luckett botched the overtime coin toss. Jerome Bettis called ‘Tails’ but Luckett thought he said ‘heads.’ Then Detroit received the ball and won the game with a field goal.

“What makes me mad is when you fight and scratch for 60 minutes out there, and the game is decided by guys who wear striped shirts,” Steelers coach Bill Cowher said (via SBNation). “There’s something wrong about that.” Most people would agree with this perspective because it wasn’t fair.

The Unbeaten Dolphins (1972)

Miami had an incredible undefeated season in 1972 but we don’t talk about the fine margins that made this happen. One game against the Vikings saw them receive a controversial call that won them the game. If the referee didn’t fail at that moment we’d never talked about this Dolphins’ team.

Bob Lurtesma received a roughing the pass call after he tackled Bob Griese. However, viewers protested that it was fair and that he didn’t make excessive contact. Unfortunately for Lurtesma, it didn’t matter because the referee stuck by his decision, and the Dolphins won the game (via

Music City Miracle (2000)

There were three seconds left on the clock when the Titans defeated the Bills after a 75-yard touchdown in the Wild Card round. They called it the ‘Music City Miracle’ because it took place in Nashville but the moment wasn’t without controversy. That’s because many Buffalo fans still believe it shouldn’t have happened.

They point to an illegal trick-play kickoff return that saw the Titans score the decisive touchdown. It was a devastating moment for the Bills and saw the franchise spiral out of control. They were a powerhouse in the ’90s but deteriorated and missed the playoffs for many years after this (via Democrat and Chronicle).

Missed Interference (2019)

Bourbon Street saw a lot of action after the NFC Championship Game in 2019 after one of the most ridiculous decisions in NFL history. The Saints played the Rams in the showpiece event with a Super Bowl spot awaiting the winner. Drew Brees threw a pass in the fourth quarter toward TommyLee Lewis but an L.A. player took him out.

However, the seven officials present didn’t think it deserved a pass interference penalty and the Saints lost the game. There were at least two potential penalties in the build-up but the Saints didn’t receive any. This traumatized New Orleans for the next couple of seasons and it’s not difficult to see why (via CBS Sports).

The “Fail Mary” (2012)

There is a significant difference in quality between NFL officials and their college counterparts. The league found this out to its cost in 2012 when the former group went on strike. Then the NFL brought in a bunch of replacement referees who made many ridiculous decisions that hurt teams (via The Ringer).

The Packers came off on the wrong end of a terrible call against Seattle. Russell Wilson launched a Hail Mary pass toward the endzone as the Seahawks trailed. But Golden Tate and M.D. Jennings both caught the ball. Meanwhile, Tate illegally disrupted a Green Bay player but the referee awarded him the touchdown anyway.

What’s A Catch? (2015)

After two years, the NFL changed its mind about one of the most controversial decisions of the past decade. Dez Bryant infamously caught the ball and maintained possession for the Cowboys. But the referee disagreed and said that he lost control in a costly moment for Dallas (via NBC Sports).

This immediately ignited an intense debate about what constitutes a successful catch. Eventually, the NFL clarified the rules because they didn’t want to see more ridiculous decisions. It didn’t help Bryant or his franchise but it was important for wide receivers around the league.

Super Bowl XL

This remains one of the most shambolic sporting events in U.S. history. Fans expect at least one poor call in every game because human error exists. But the number of ridiculous decisions in Super Bowl XL was beyond belief. Many fans accused the NFL of fixing the game because it was insane.

Bleacher Report

Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown in the second quarter was one of the most controversial moments. Then there was a holding penalty that could have gone either way but the Seahawks suffered. Seattle fans resented the officials because they feel they lost a massive opportunity (via Sports Illustrated).

Orlando Brown’s Eye

Technically this wasn’t a bad call but it deserves a place on this list. The offensive tackle played for the Cleveland Browns against the Jaguars in 1999. During the game, the referee threw the penalty marker toward the area where the offense took place. But somehow it hit Brown in the eye and injured him (via Bleacher Report).

He reacted aggressively and shoved referee Jeff Triplette. The NFL hit him with a suspension for this action but it didn’t matter. That’s because Brown required surgeries to repair the damage to his eye and missed the next couple of seasons. Then the NFL changed one of their ridiculous decisions to make the game safer.

Don’t Hurt Tom! (2022)

This is one of several bad calls from the same weekend that made headlines. However, the fact that Tom Brady was involved had an even bigger impact. Referee Jerome Boger made one of the most ridiculous decisions of his long and controversial career. He cited Grady Jarrett for roughing the passer after an obviously clean sack on the quarterback.

Context is important because this came in the aftermath of Tua Tagovailoa’s horrendous on-field seizure. But that doesn’t excuse Boger’s awful call or silence the conspiracy theorists. Many fans think that Brady receives extensive favoritism but this was egregious (via The Guardian).