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Blow the whistle on ref

The Baltimore Sun

I usually hate it when fans attribute a loss to an official's call. Every game is a complex organism composed of thousands of interdependent actions. Therefore, reducing any result to one pivotal moment has almost always struck me as folly.

That said, I believe that if referee Bill Carollo had not whistled a 15-yard penalty on Terrell Suggs to extend the Tennessee Titans' fourth-quarter drive Sunday, the Ravens would have won the game.

Good professional officiating is as much about the calls you don't make as the ones you do. Does anyone seriously question that, under a strict reading of the rule book, referees could call penalties on every down of every NFL game? Every time the ball is snapped, 22 men of unimaginable speed, power and drive fight for every hint of an advantage. If one of them blatantly ignores a rule or threatens another player's health, then a penalty has to be called. But if a referee can avoid interrupting the game's natural flow by ignoring a borderline call, he should keep the flag in his pocket.

I don't know how Carollo could have watched that play and believed Suggs was swinging dangerously at Kerry Collins' head. He appeared to fight past a block, lunge to swat the ball and catch Collins on the shoulder, near his helmet. It probably didn't rank among the 100 most violent acts committed in a very physical game. Yet Carollo ignored the game situation and the spirit of the rule in favor of a textbook call that might not have been correct on its narrowest merits.

If he had never thrown his flag, the Titans would've punted from deep in their territory, and the Ravens could've run out the clock with a few first downs. Did Joe Flacco's poor decision-making and the defense's inability to pressure Collins on the remainder of that drive also cost the Ravens? Well, sure.

But sometimes, a single poor call can collapse the whole, intricate structure of a football game. And it happened to the Ravens on Sunday.

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