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Biggest officiating mistakes in NFL history

Home » NFL » Worst NFL Referee Calls Ever: Biggest Officiating Errors in NFL History

For the record, we think that NFL referees mostly do a good job, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t scratch our heads at the worst NFL referee calls ever made.

After all, we all make mistakes sometimes. But when NFL referees make mistakes, there are thousands of people watching in the stadium and potentially millions more at home. That’s why the biggest NFL officiating mistakes get so much attention and make us question the average NFL referee salary.

Worst NFL referee calls ever

If there’s one thing that fans should remember it’s that refs typically get it right more than 95% of the time.

But in the long history of the NFL, that’s a lot of bad calls at an inopportune time. In fact, it was harder than we expected to come up with a list of the worst NFL referee calls ever made. Nevertheless, here is our list of the biggest NFL officiating mistakes in league history.

Dez Bryant’s non catch

How did it take so long for the NFL to figure out what constitutes a catch?


More importantly, how did this play from Bryant not fit the definition of a catch?

First of all, the play was fourth-and-2 in a playoff game. He out-leaps Sam Shields for the ball and has the presence of mind to reach for the goal line in the same motion rather than just pulling the ball tight. He didn’t get to the goal line and was ruled down at the 1-yard line, but because Bryant lost his grip on the ball while stretching, the play was challenged and overturned. The play was undoubtedly a huge feat of athleticism by Bryant and it’s a crime that it didn’t count.

Missed pass interference in the Playoffs

This game was utterly wild and deserved a better ending than what it got, even if the crazy finish was indicative of the game. Let’s remember that the Giants held a commanding 38-14 lead in the third quarter before the 49ers mounted one of the great comebacks in playoff history.

San Francisco scored 25 unanswered points to take a 39-38 lead with 1:05 left in the game, giving the Giants a chance.

They got the ball far enough downfield to attempt a 41-yard field goal on the final snap of the game.

Of course, the Giants hurt themselves by botching the snap, forcing holder Matt Allen to chuck the ball down the field.


The throw fell incomplete and in the chaos, the Giants had ineligible receivers down the field. But guard Rich Seubert was not one of them because he had reported as eligible before the play. He was also in the vicinity of Allen’s pass when Chike Okeafor took him to the ground in what looked like an obvious case of pass interference.

But the refs didn’t throw a flag for pass interference, which would have meant off-setting penalties, giving the Giants another chance to kick a field goal. A day later, the NFL admitted the mistake, but that did nothing to change the outcome for the Giants.

The Tuck Rule

This game is remembered as one of the best playoff games in recent memory, although it’s largely because it’s also infamous for one of the biggest NFL officiating mistakes.

Shockingly, Tom Brady and the Patriots were the beneficiaries of this controversial call, although to be fair, this was before their dynasty began.

Nevertheless, New England was down a field goal in the final two minutes of a snowy game when Charles Woodson strip-sacked Brady with Greg Biekert recovering for the Raiders. But upon review, the refs had the nerve to rule that Brady’s arm was going forward, making it an incomplete pass.

Of course, when you look at the replay, Brady appears to have two hands on the ball and tucking it back against his body to brace for impact, which should have made it a fumble.

If it were called a fumble, the Patriots don’t win the Super Bowl with Brady and perhaps the Pats go back to Drew Bledsoe the following year. Who knows, but the so-called “Tuck Rule” is not only one of the worst NFL referee calls ever but also one of the most influential plays in league history considering everything that followed with Brady and the Patriots.

Nickell Robey-Coleman gets away with one

We know that the people of New Orleans will never forgive this as one of the worst NFL referee calls ever. As most fans remember, this infamous play came late in the NFC Championship Game between the Rams and Saints when Robey-Coleman clearly made contact with Tommylee Lewis before the pass from Drew Brees arrived.

It looked like a textbook pass interference call, but no flag was thrown.

While there are no guarantees, if the call were made correctly, it’s a safe bet that the Saints wouldn’t have had to settle for a field goal with enough time for the Rams to tie the game and send it to overtime. Of course, the Rams ended up winning the game in overtime and giving fans one of the worst Super Bowls in recent memory in their boring loss to the Patriots.

Can’t miss field goal

Granted, the uprights were a little different in 1965. But that still doesn’t excuse back judge Jim Tunney, who credited Green Bay kicker Don Chandler with a field goal that he badly missed.

Chandler’s body language gave away the fact that he missed the kick wide but Tunney signaled the field goal was good anyway.

The worst part is that this happened in a playoff game. If the field goal had been accurately called, the Colts would have won the game 10-7. Instead, Chandler rightfully made another field goal in overtime to send the Packers to the NFL Championship Game, which they won the year before the first Super Bowl. 

1 thought on “Biggest officiating mistakes in NFL history”

  1. Exactly correct about Tunney. He has spent almost 60 years trying to convince everyone he got the call right. BS. He gave the Packers a championship they didn’t deserve. If he wasn’t so arrogant, he would admit he missed it. But NO . . .

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