While the Bills loss to the Bengals can be in part attributed to poor play on both sides of the ball, one cannot help but wonder about certain rules and officiating that also had a major effect on the game. Before I go on, I must applaud the NFL in its ability to adjust or even get rid of its rules over time. The infamous pushed out of bounds - but could still be a catch was repealed with much fanfare that helped to ease questionable game changing calls. Most importantly is the huge impact that the NFL has allowed through the replay and the coach's challenge. And while these instruments do a great deal to ease controversial calls, the fact remains that referees still can get it wrong at times.
Refereeing mistakes happen all the time, even with the best officials. The Chargers once got gypped on a blown should-have been fumble in a game lost to the Broncos by a single point by (then voted best referee) Ed Hochuli. To that end, the NFL has encouraged its referees to let certain plays play out if a fumble did indeed occur, although that power still resides with the on-field referees. But lets face it, the referees are only human and in all sports, blown or missed calls can happen. Judgment calls for penalties happen or don't. Seven referees keeping track of quickly moving, bunched up players while avoiding getting hit, interfering in plays and ball movements is a lot to expect. Replay and challenges are a step in the right direction, but more is needed, and more can be done.
I: More Views
The first and easiest change is to simply have more camera angles on the field. How many times have the refs made a call and then have to stick with it due to inadequate views on the field of the play? Part of what I love about Madden Football is the ability to view instant replay from virtually any angle. While that same ability cannot, nor consistently be done all the time, simply stringing a few extra cameras along the sidelines can ease the burden of replay. Even while paying players more under the new CBA, I believe the NFL still wants to deliver its fans the best picture on the field. Not only would extra cameras give officials more ways to review a play, but it will give fans at home a better experience as well.
This in turns leads into my second point, the matter of officials reviewing plays on the field. As I am not a referee, I do not know how exactly the replay booth the head referee uses works. But based on the size, I have to imagine that the screen size cannot make it any easier for replay officials to determine the outcome of a controversial play. Also, the referee, despite all his integrity may be susceptible to the hometown pressure to rule in a certain manner. While I feel the latter is very unlikely, to ease opponent complaints, major replays (IE coach's challenge or a score) should be reviewed at a central location by independent eyes. Much like the NHL, reviews can be made not only more impartially, but can also be looked at more thoroughly, quickly (especially in this era of modern technology) and thus accurately.
III: Repealing the Tuck Rule
One specific rule to which there has been some controversy is the (infamous) tuck rule. The first example occurred in the playoffs between the Raiders and the Patriots in which Tom Brady seemingly fumbles the ball when bringing the ball back in to protect it. Rather than getting called a fumble, the officials rule it an incomplete pass despite no actual attempt to throw the ball. This is even more apparent in the Bills v Bengals game of 2011 in which Andy Dalton senses the pressure, and while moving the ball in to protect it, gets hit from behind and seemingly fumbles.
Obviously there is some controversy as the referee is the only person to judge whether the loose ball is indeed a fumble. For the sake of simplicity, the referee is right under the current rule. But again, no attempt is being made to throw the ball, nor does it travel the necessary distance to be ruled a pass. What I propose is that when reviewing the play, a math program using trigonometry (using math in sports, what a revolutionary concept) the NFL establishes angles at which the ball can be determined as a forward pass attempt or a fumble.
This idea would also affect the controversial outcome on the aforementioned Chargers-Broncos game. The QB would have to have arm in a way that a pass could be conceivably be caught by a nearby target or the ball must be released going forwards without any help (IE defensive person banging the arm/ball). I won't put specific parameters to this idea, but the tuck rule needs reevaluation as no pass attempt is being made. Otherwise I fear QBs will simply argue they were getting rid of the ball then take a sack rather than fumbling the ball.
As this is still highly subjective to the replay official (hopefully in a separate area than on-field), I can understand if this abstract idea is not accepted, but would hopefully be taken in consideration. I love football ever since I was a little kid and so I would do nothing to harm the integrity of the sport, instead focusing to help improve it for future generations.