AP Pro Football Writer
POSTED: 6:00 p.m. HST, Sep 23, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 4:10 a.m. HST, Sep 24, 2012
Suspect officiating decisions during several games contributed to a chaotic third Sunday of the NFL season.
Replacement officials admitted making two mistakes in Minnesota's victory over San Francisco, while a few other games included questionable calls that could have affected the outcomes.
Referee Ken Roan said he twice granted 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh video challenges after Harbaugh called timeout in the fourth quarter. Neither challenge should have been allowed once Harbaugh asked for time.
"What I told him was, 'Well you challenged it not knowing what the result of the play was going to be,' " Roan said. "So I granted him the challenge and we went and looked at it. That was wrong. I should not have."
Both mistakes happened in the span of six plays in Minnesota's 24-13 upset of the 49ers.
"My interpretation of it was that he could do that based upon the time factors and not knowing it was a challengeable play to begin with when he called timeout," Roan said. "If you don't have a timeout to lose, you can't make a challenge."
In the Lions-Titans and Bengals-Redskins games, officials marched off too much yardage on penalties.
Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch's helmet-to-helmet hit on Craig Stevens wound up as a 27-yard penalty in Tennessee's 44-41 overtime win. In OT, from the Titans 44, Jake Locker passed to Stevens over the middle for a 24-yard gain and Tulloch was flagged for the hit. Fourteen yards were added to the end of the play, which then was reviewed and overturned because the ball hit the ground.
However, the penalty still is enforced. Instead of 15 yards, officials marked it off from the Detroit 44 — the wrong spot.
"As soon as the play was declared incomplete it becomes a first down and it becomes 15 yards from the play before," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.
The Redskins were penalized 20 yards instead of 15 for unsportsmanlike conduct in the final seconds of their 38-31 loss.
Robert Griffin III spiked the ball to stop the clock with 7 seconds left. Then tight end Fred Davis was called for a 5-yard false start penalty.
According to Washington coach Mike Shanahan, at least one official indicated there would be a 10-second runoff, ending the game — and the Bengals, led by coach Marvin Lewis, started walking onto the field. There shouldn't have been a runoff, though, because the clock had been stopped by the spike. The Redskins began arguing, and eventually the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called.
The officials never announced specifically who the call was against, just that the penalty would be added to the false start, a total of 20 yards. But they walked off 25 yards — the official game play-by-play said 20 yards were enforced for the unsportsmanlike conduct.
That left the Redskins with a third-and-50.
"They threw the flag at us, and there was half of the (Bengals) team on the field," Shanahan said. "I was disappointed in that."
Earlier today, the players' union posted an open letter to team owners calling on them to end the lockout of the regular officials that began in June when their contact expired. The NFL used replacements in 2001 for one week before a new deal was reached.
This year, criticism from coaches and players has mounted for the replacements, who come from lower college levels or from other leagues such as Arena Football.
There have been numerous complaints by players and coaches — certainly more than when the regular officials work — and today was no different. In one particularly embarrassing episode an official was removed from working a New Orleans game last week because he posted photos of himself in Saints gear on Facebook.
Then there were more questionable decisions today:
—At Nashville, with 16 seconds remaining in regulation, Detroit's Shaun Hill threw to Nate Burleson on the sideline and he then lost the ball. It looked to be a completion then a fumble because the side judge threw his beanie, but another official ruled an incomplete pass. Titans CB Alterraun Verner had grabbed the ball and started to run and there were questions why the replay booth didn't review it.
—Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo fumbled twice on plays in the third quarter that weren't initially ruled turnovers until challenged by Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.
First, Romo was in the grasp of Gerald McCoy with his right arm extended, when he flicked the ball forward in what was initially ruled an incomplete pass. Officials watched the replay and determined the ball was loose when Romo tried to push it out, and called it a fumble recovered by Gary Gibson at the 19.
Later, Michael Bennett sacked Romo and knocked the ball loose, but officials quickly whistled the play dead and Romo down even as Eric Wright ran toward the end zone with the football.
After Schiano challenged, officials reversed it to a fumble recovered at the 31, and the Bucs failed to score.
"They blew it dead. But the refs are doing a great job," McCoy said. "A lot of people are complaining. We've got what we got. Everyone needs to accept it. They're trying their hardest. No ref wants to go out there and make a bad call."
—Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was taken to the hospital with a neck injury after a helmet-to-helmet hit from Steelers safety Ryan Mundy that was not penalized.
Heyward-Bey was running across the end zone early in the fourth quarter to catch a pass from Carson Palmer when Mundy launched his body and lowered his helmet into Heyward-Bey's facemask. Heyward-Bey's neck jerked violently and his head also crashed into the ground. The pass was incomplete.
"Once again the refs missed it, like they always do," Oakland defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said.
—Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano was ruled to have made a catch near the Jets' goal line and the call was held up after review, even though the ball touched the ground as he was tackled.
"Well, I think the fact that we have to talk about it after every game is something right there," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "I don't think in my seven-year career that I've had to do that ever. So that probably tells you the story right there."
AP Sports Writers Antonio Gonzalez, Josh Dubow, Jon Krawczynski, Teresa M. Walker, Stephen Hawkins, Howard Fendrich and Joseph White contributed to this story.