5 of the NFL’s Most Controversial On-Field Decisions: Tom Brady ‘Roughing the Passer’ Call Sneaks In


Week 5 of the NFL season saw one of the most contentious on-field decisions in recent memory, which has sparked our imagination to explore some of the worst officiating in the league’s history.

Sunday’s tie between the Buccaneers and the Falcons was ultimately decided by what can only be described as a truly bewildering decision, which would also go on to hand the former the victory.


5. Roughing the Passer Call on Tom Brady – 2022

Veteran Tom Brady and Tampa Bay, who are +1200 to clinch the Super Bowl in NFL betting, led the Falcons 21-15 with little over three minutes left to play, and the 45-year-old was sacked by Grady Jarrett for a loss of 10 yards on third down.

This ultimately would have handed Atlanta the chance to take the lead with the Bucs forced to punt, but what looked to be a routine sack by the Falcons defensive end was flagged by the referee as roughing the passer.

The Bucs would go on to run the clock down and keep the ball from their opponents for the remainder of the match to see out a 21-15 win, but the wave of abuse following the decision has caused quite the reaction across social media.


4. Bears vs Lions ‘Stolen Touchdown’ – 2010

Trailing by five points and a star quarterback, Matthew Stafford, ruled out through injury,  second-string backup Shaun Hill deputised to great effect by driving the Lions towards the end zone.

Hill threw a mesmerising ball into Calvin Johnson, who somehow outdid his team-mate by leaping high above the Bears defence to pluck the ball out of the sky.

With both hands griping the ball, landing both feet on the ground, holding it to the ground, Johnson then planted the ball to the grass, where he was deemed  to have ‘lost possession.’

Rather incredibly, the law states that the Lions wide receiver actually should have been awarded a confirmed TD not once, but on three occasions in the span of a few seconds. Johnson caught the ball, planted two feet down, TD confirmed. His knee touches the ground within bounds – TD confirmed. When he lands on his back on the ground, that is also a touchdown.

Instead, a winning touchdown was taken away with two minutes left on the clock after a review by the officials.

It even led to the creation of a new precedent in the NFL, which states that a receiver must maintain possession of the ball in the end zone at all times, even after falling to the turf.

3. Robey-Coleman’s Pass Interference – 2019

Let’s rewind to 2019 for our number three pick, where the Saints had to the ball on the Rams’ 13-yard line in the NFC Championship Game, with little under two minutes left on the clock.

With the score tied at 20-a-piece, New Orleans QB Drew Brees fired a pass towards the sideline behind Tommylee Lewis, where Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman would be waiting to stop his opponent in his tracks. He did just that, with his back to the play the now-Raiders defender proceeded to lay a monstrous shoulder charge on the wideout.

Much to the disgust of the Saints coaching staff, the obvious pass interference was not given and the Saints  were denied a new set of downs and the chance to potentially run down the clock.

To really rub salt into the wounds, the Rams would go on to book their ticket to the Super Bowl.

2. Don Chandler’s ‘Ghost’ Field Goal – 1965

Boxing Day 1965 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, and certainly for one of the worst examples of officiating ever seen in the NFL.

Lambeau Field, Green Bay, bore witness to a simply inexcusable call in the West divisional playoff between the Colts and the Packers.

Don Chandler attempted a 22-yard field to try and send the tie into over-time, but instead the ball started leaning to the right, missing the post by a good half-foot as it flew by the upright. Jim Tunney, the official behind the posts, immediately signalled otherwise, calling that the ball had in fact flew within the confines of the goal.

Looking at the video footage below, you can even spot Chandler turn away in disgust at his attempt around 9 seconds in.

The Packers would go on to win the tie 13-10, while the Colts were hit with not one but two daggers in the heart after Tunney outright refused to admit his mistake, before the goalposts were extended from 10 to 20 feet prior the start of the next season.


1. Tom Brady Fumble That Wasn’t – 2002

And so, we arrive at number one.

While this is certainly a mistake on the referee’s part, this decision is made worse by the fact it would kick-start the Tom Brady-inspired Patriots dominance, albeit somewhat tarnished by this incident.

To set the stage, amid a windswept blizzard the Raiders were leading the Patriots by three points, with just under two minutes of play left.

New England had the ball on the Raiders’ 42-yard line, and Raiders safety Charles Woodson strip-sacked Tom Brady on first-and-10.

The infamous ‘Tuck Rule states: “When (an offensive) player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass.”

“Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.”

As the video shows, the quarterback was hit by the defensive back  and as he moved his arm toward his body, Woodson caused a fumble that should have essentially ended the game.

Referee Walt Coleman instead deemed the call an incomplete pass, and Adam Vinatieri would go on to score two field goals to secure an overtime win. This would ultimately be the catalyst in the Brady-Belichick era that featured nine Super Bowl appearances and six Lombardy Trophies.

Brady later admitted that the call most likely set-up a glorious career spanning two decades. He said: “I’m probably the backup QB going into 2002. I’m not the starter if we lose that game.”

He later posted this comical video on Twitter earlier this year, which certainly would have rubbed the Raiders the wrong way.





Arrow to top