You never want to be those fans. You never want to be those fans that blame the officiating for the loss. Let's face it: every fanbase thinks that their team were the victims of some cheap calls that hurt them. Every fanbase is the same, and each week is no different. That's why I generally try to stay away from criticizing the officials too much.
Tonight, however, is different. Tonight, whether you're a Colts fan or not, you could make a very strong case that the officials cost the Colts the game. Let's not take the blame off of others - like the coaches. But let's also not downplay the fact that the officials botched some crucial calls tonight that shaped the game.
With 5:15 left in the game, the Colts led the Eagles 27-20. They faced a 3rd down and 9 from the Eagles 22 yard line. As it was, it would have been around a 39 yard field goal for Adam Vinatieri to put the Colts up by two scores. Instead, the entire game changed on one play. Andrew Luck was picked off across the middle, giving the Eagles the ball back (and only preventing a score thanks to a Reggie Wayne touchdown-saving tackle). No field goal for the Colts. The Eagles drove down the field and tied it up. But the interception has been one that has generated a lot of discussion, and it's because the referees missed a huge call. T.Y. Hilton was held as he was going across the middle. The hold prevented him from getting to the ball and instead allowed the Eagles to pick it off.
The NFL is cracking down on defensive holding penalties this year, but the referees missed a huge one tonight. What should have been a defensive penalty and another shot for the Colts instead led to the Eagles game-tying touchdown. A two-score lead with about five minutes left is probably safe. Instead, Colts lose. And it all changed on one play in which the referees missed an obvious defensive holding.
Many fans are upset about the Colts' decision to pass the ball on that third down. But I think that's a classic example of hindsight being 20/20. Of course running the ball would seem to be the better option now that we know the pass would be picked and the refs would ignore a penalty, but at the time it was a great decision, and I still think it was the right one. I guarantee you that the same fans complaining about the pass now would have been complaining if they ran it too. Running it means you're settling for a field goal. That's a good option, but consider this: if you pass the ball, you have three options: an incomplete pass, a first down, or an interception. An incomplete pass still allows you to kick a field goal (so does a completed pass short of the first down). A first down extends the drive or even gets you a touchdown. The only negative option is an interception, and that's a scenario where you have to decide how much you trust Andrew Luck. And if you can't trust Luck, then you're just playing scared.
The play call was actually a safe one for a pass play. The crossing route to T.Y. Hilton works a lot and it's a play that should be completed nine times out of ten. If Hilton isn't held, he catches that ball. That's a safe play for a throw - other than the fact that it's a throw across the middle. If the Colts ran the ball, they'd be giving it to Trent Richardson, who had already fumbled twice that night. Andrew Luck had yet to turn the ball over. He's the smartest player on the field. He's a heck of a quarterback. And even though he had an off night, you still can trust him in that situation. It wasn't a bad throw. It wasn't a bad play call. It was just an incredibly bad no-call by the referees. And the Colts weren't happy about it.
"I think I had the same view as you did," Chuck Pagano said after the game (per the Indianapolis Star), trying to show as much restraint as he could to avoid a fine this week.
"Whether he was tackled or dragged down or whatever it was," Pagano said, "there's nothing the quarterback or anybody else can do about it."
Your thinking is not wrong," Pagano continued, referring to the option of wanting a field goal there so playing it safe. "Our thinking was the same thing. We've got the field goal. Take care of the football. It didn't work out."
"We'd been running that shallow (route) the whole game," T.Y. Hilton told the Star's Stephen Holder. "I caught two passes on it, so (one defender) bit on the shallow (route). But I was doubled and (Boykin) did his job and cut me off. But he got my arm and then the safety came in. ... I would have caught it. I would have taken a hit because the safety was coming down, but it wouldn't have been a pick."
Andrew Luck also was asked what he thought of the interception and no-call, and he said that, "it doesn't matter what I think. It was an interception."
The Colts weren't happy. Like, they were super upset. But they all realized that there's only so much they can say without drawing a fine from the league. But we can talk all we want about how awful the call was, and it certainly was.
And guess what? That probably wasn't even the worst call the officials made tonight. They flagged the Colts on a horsecollar penalty on the Eagles' ensuing drive that most definitely wasn't a horsecollar. It didn't have as huge of an impact on the game, but it was just as bad of a miss (if not more so).
There were other reasons why the Colts lost this game besides just the officiating. But if the officials had just made the right call (especially on that interception), the Colts would have gone up by ten-points at the very least and likely would have clinched the game. You never like to be those fans, but tonight, the reality is that the officials flat out blew it. And the NFL better hold them accountable.