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Vacchiano: Refs deserve some blame for Odell Beckham mess

Ralph Vacchiano


Wednesday, December 23, 2015, 11:53 PM

FILEMichael Reaves

Giants’ Odell Beckham (l.) and Panthers’ Josh Norman devolve their Week 14 matchup into a bar room brawl – but it’s the refs that allow it to go too far.

Odell Beckham deserved the one-game suspension he got from the NFL, and Josh Norman deserved at least his $ 26,000 in fines. Their actions were inexcusable. They deserved to be punished.

But they’re not the only ones.

Somehow, NFL officials continue to get away mostly scot-free with actions and inactions that are equally indefensible, week after week, season after season. Sometimes it’s botched calls. Sometimes it’s blown rules. And sometimes, like on Sunday, it’s dangerous inaction that easily could have led to serious injuries. There were multiple times early in the game when referee Terry McAulay and his crew could have put a stop to the Beckham-Norman mess before it got started.

Yet they didn’t. They ignored what was happening in front of them.

But the league shouldn’t ignore their role in that fiasco. Maybe the officials should be hit with a fine or a suspension, too.

“I think the referees let that go early on (and) I think that played a big part in why the day unfolded as it did,” Giants punter Brad Wing said on Wednesday. “I don’t even know if there’s any disciplinary action for referees, but I think they at least have to have a talking to, just to know that in future games you can stop that before it gets to that point.”

You can bet that McAulay and his crew will get “a talking to” but that just doesn’t seem like enough for the way they stood idly by as the Beckham-Norman war escalated. No, they can’t be responsible for a practice squad player threatening Beckham with a bat in pregame warmups or for Beckham launching himself like a weapon.

But one of their biggest jobs is to maintain control – even Dean Blandino, the NFL’s VP of officiating, conceded that much. And in that regard, their performance was atrocious, starting with the fifth play of the game.

That’s when Beckham was grabbed in the open field on Norman, far away from the ball. Beckham extended his arms in what Wing described as “a universal sign of retreat.” Then Norman lifted him and spiked him into the ground.

“I saw that,” Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said on Wednesday. “Right in front of a guy with… I think he had a striped shirt on?”

He sure did. In fact, there were two officials standing right there – the side judge and the back judge.

They couldn’t possibly have missed it. More likely, they just chose not to throw a flag, which is even more inexcusable.

That was the first sign that they were perfectly willing to let the game spiral out of control.

“There were no flags or no help or no intervention by any officials,” Wing said. “So I think that kind of just let Odell know what kind of day it was going to be, and if anyone was to stick up for Odell it had to be himself. Because the officials made it clear at that point in time they didn’t want to control it, or didn’t have any control over it.”

Added Jenkins: “Things go on and nobody does anything about it and you feel like somebody’s blatantly doing something to you, you sometimes feel like you may have to defend yourself.”

It was so bad that Blandino admitted he called over to the Meadowlands in the third quarter to remind the officials they could actually eject players – something they probably should have done to both Beckham and Norman by then. But they had already ignored plenty. In the letter that NFL VP of football operations Merton Hanks sent to Beckham about his suspension, Hanks cited four unpenalized offenses – a head butt and three punches – in the first quarter alone.

All were missed or ignored by McAulay and his crew.

No wonder things escalated from there. It’s amazing that things didn’t get worse. The message the players got was that anything goes.

“If you go into a game and you see a referee call a personal foul (on a hit) against the quarterback that’s very minor, then you know for the rest of the game that you have to be careful because that’s how they’re calling it,” Jenkins said. “If you know that referees are letting certain things go then you adapt.”

So Norman kept pushing Beckham and Beckham kept throwing punches until he decided to launch himself like a human spear at Norman’s head. In his Tuesday night segment on NFL Network, Blandino noted that “things did tend to settle down as the game got closer in the fourth quarter.” And they did — right after the late-third quarter series when the refs hit Beckham and Norman with four personal fouls in a six-play span.

That it took that long for the flags to fly is unconscionable. Blandino did say he talked to those officials after the game and that their inaction will be “the teaching point and that’ll be the focus going forward this week with our training tapes.” But that hardly seems like enough considering that what generally has been a bad year for NFL officials turned downright dangerous on Sunday.

Their mismanagement inevitably proved costly to Beckham and the Giants. It’s only right if it costs the officials something, too.

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