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Falcons vs. Buccaneers was the worst-officiated game I've ever seen

The officiating crew for the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons was ridiculously bad.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The referees in Sunday's game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons had the single worst performance I've ever seen. Clete Blakeman and crew made mistake after mistake after mistake, and every single mistake went against the Bucs. Every. Single. One.

That started in the first quarter The Bucs were hit with three defensive offside penalties, none of which really impacted the drive, but all three were very, very close and having watched them repeatedly in slow motion, it simply looked like Gerald McCoy successfully timed out the snap count. Yes, he was in motion before everyone else -- but  he didn't look offside to me. That's minor, but it set the tone for the rest of the game.

Just as a defensive pass interference penalty against Leonard Johnson on third-and-four later that drive did. That was a somewhat weak call, but it was pretty reasonable: Johnson never turned his head and seemed to hold down one of Harry Douglas' arms -- something you could only see on the third replay.

Similarly, a second-quarter non-call for defensive pass interference against the Falcons looks iffy -- the refs picked up the flag, and no replays were shown during the game, but in slow motion there certainly appears to be some contact before the ball arrives. And then there was the clock stopping at one second instead of the first half ending -- another close call going the wrong way.

Those kinds of things happen in every game, but they do add up, and none of those close calls went against the Falcons. But what happened in the fourth quarter was a complete disaster.

Fourth quarter meltdown

On the Falcons' first drive of the fourth quarter, on third down in the red zone, Johnthan Banks was called for illegal hands to the face. This is what that looked like.

Illegal hands

There are no hands to anyone's face. Banks is within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Nothing illegal is happening. This extended the Falcons' drive and gave them another three shots at the endzone. On the very next play, this happens:

Ball out

The Bucs ripped the ball out of Julio Jones hands more or less simultaneously with the whistle blowing for forward progress, and this was not ruled a fumble. His forward progress had genuinely been stopped for several seconds, but it's yet another close call that went against the Bucs. The very next play, the Falcons scored their go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) touchdown.

And then things got even more ridiculous. First, Josh McCown and Mike Evans made a ridiculous play on third-and-20 to keep the Bucs in the game, only to see it nullified by an illegal forward pass ruling because McCown was supposedly beyond the line of scrimmage.

Illegal forward pass

To make this ruling even more idiotic than it already was, you're only ruled to be beyond the line of scrimmage if every single part of your body has passed the line. This was clearly not the case here, and referees tend to be extraordinarily reluctant to assess this penalty, to the point where I've seen Brett Favre complete passes when he was five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Thankfully, the Bucs rectified that call with a challenge. It didn't take that long for them to get jobbed again, though. Four plays later, the Bucs converted a third-and-one with a short pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins who couldn't get out of bounds. But there was a flag! In the secondary! That penalty should have stopped the clock, except...well...this

Clete Blakeman ruled that there was no penalty for defensive holding because, and I quote, "the ball was thrown to a different area of the field". Needless to say, this provision is not in the rule book. That didn't have a huge impact on the game -- there wasn't that much time left before the two-minute warning and the Bucs still got a play off, but it's just a mind-boggling ruling.

And to make matters worse, on the play they did get off the refs thought that this was not getting two feet down.

Two feet down!

And that was yet another unnecessary challenge burned. Luckily Lovie Smith still had that challenge, which means this also didn't have a huge impact on the game -- but this was getting pretty ridiculous.

And on the very next play, the Bucs finally had a call go their way. Josh McCown threw off his back foot to the corner of the end zone, the ball got tipped in the air and Dwight Lowery scooped it up right before it hit the ground -- but the same ref who ruled the previous play out of bounds now ruled that the ball had hit the ground. Yay!

The Bucs went to the line quickly, snapped the ball, and just as McCown released the ball for a key touchdown throw to Vincent Jackson, the refs blew the whistle for a replay booth review. This is perfectly legal: there were about three seconds between the snap and the whistle, but what matters is when the replay official buzzes down, not when the whistle is blown. But it's yet another close timing call that goes against the Bucs.

On review, the play was correctly ruled an interception -- no, Vincent Jackson did not touch it first, sadly. And for the first time all game the refs made a mistake in favor of the Bucs, and they still corrected it on replay.

None of this means much. The Bucs just didn't play well enough to win. But this was still the single worst performance by a crew of officials I've ever seen. Except for maybe Super Bowl XL.