Officiating was, unfortunately, at the forefront of many NFL fans’ minds in wake of Super Bowl 56. The officials didn’t call many penalties during the contest, but referee Ron Torbert and his crew were in the middle of a couple of controversial calls that could have swung the outcome of the game.
The first one of note came on the first offensive play of the second half when the officials missed a blatant facemask penalty against Tee Higgins. The Bengals receiver threw Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the ground on a contested catch attempt by grabbing and pulling his facemask.
Tee Higgins definitely got away with one. Grabbed Ramsey’s facemask. pic.twitter.com/yg4yFxd9VY
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) February 14, 2022
Higgins went on to score a 75-yard touchdown. No penalty was called and that allowed the Bengals to take a 17-13 lead, their first of the game.
The missed call appeared to be a clear error by the officiating crew, but Torbert doubled down on it after the game. The referee said in a pool report that the contact wasn’t worthy of a pass interference call.
“The crew did not see any contact that warranted pass interference,” Tolbert said following the contest. “It was a contested catch, and the crew didn’t see any contact that rose to the level of pass interference.”
But what about the facemask penalty? Torbert explained that they didn’t see “a grab and twist and turn” during the play. Thus, they didn’t call it.
“Our rule is that if there is a grab and twist and turn, there’s enough for a foul,” Torbert said. “If there’s just a rake across the facemask, where there’s not a twist and turn, even if there’s a grab, there is no foul. The officials did not see any contact that rose to the level of a foul for a 15-yard facemask.”
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Torbert’s explanation of the NFL’s facemask rule is correct. However, there certainly was a grab and twist Higgins’ touchdown, so it would appear that the crew simply missed the pull from the Bengals’ receiver.
That said, the Rams found themselves on the right side of another botched call later in the game, when the officials missed a false start on the Rams and made a questionable defensive holding call on Logan Wilson to give Los Angeles a first-and-goal opportunity.
Torbert was not asked about that sequence, which led to the Rams’ game-winning score.