Despite the Eagles high-octane victory over the Carolina Panthers Thursday night, fans were fuming Friday morning over some questionable officiating by veteran NFL referee Pete Morelli and his crew that appeared to many to be one-sided.
“What does Pete Morelli’s crew have against the Eagles?” Eagles beat writer Jeff McLane wrote in his up-down drill following the game. “Last season, he oversaw the referees that called 14 penalties against the Birds to the Lions’ 2. And on Thursday night, early flags against Jalen Mills (pass interference) and LeGarrette Blount (unnecessary roughing) were questionable.”
The Eagles were penalized 10 times against the Panthers for a total of 126 yards. But when it came to the Panthers, Morelli’s crew called just one penalty. It went for one yard.
“10-1? Wow,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said when asked about the officiating after the game. “Hey, it’s part of the game. We’ve got to do a better job.”
“It boils me,” a less-diplomatic Jalen Mills said of the officiating “You definitely get frustrated.”
According to NBC Sports Philly’s Dave Zangaro, Morelli’s crew during the last four Eagles games (all on the road) have called 40 penalties for 396 yards against Philadelphia. Against the Eagles opponents? Just eight penalties for 72 yards.
Last 4 times Pete Morelli's crew has had #Eagles game, it's been on road. Eagles penalized 40 times for 396 yards. Opponents: 8 for 74.
— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) October 13, 2017
It wasn’t just Eagles writers who noticed the disparity. NFL Network Rich Eisen called out the crew after a particularly terrible series in the fourth quarter.
“That ruling on the field standing was weak. But so was the roughing the passer call,” Eisen wrote on Twitter. “Morelli not having a great series.”
That ruling on the field standing was weak.
But so was the roughing the passer call.
Morelli not having a great series.
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) October 13, 2017
Here’s how my colleague Paul Domowitch described it:
“Derek Barnett was called for a roughing the passer penalty on a third-and-10 at the Philadelphia 23 with 9 ½ minutes left. The officials had called a delay of game penalty on Carolina just before the snap, but neither Barnett nor Brandon Graham heard the whistle and hit Cam Newton. The Panthers went on to score and make it a five-point game.”
Morelli and his crew haven’t exactly had a stellar track record. In 2015, his officiating crew was pulled from a late-season Sunday Night Football matchup between the Colts and Steelers after making numerous errors during a game between the Cardinals and the 49ers a week before.
“The officials were struggling. Mightily,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said following that game.
Morelli’s side judge Rob Vernatchi was suspended by the league earlier that year after some clock accuracy issues during the Steelers’ Week 5 win over the Chargers. Back judge Greg Wilson was moved to a lower-profile game the following week. The NFL said in a statement the game would affect the season evaluation of Morelli and the rest of his crew, though it’s unclear what steps were taken.
Morelli’s crew also came under fire during the 2014 playoffs after overturned a pass interference call late in a wild-card game between the Lions and Cowboys that cost Detroit a first down and ultimately a victory, knocking them out of the playoffs.
“I thought it was ridiculous, to be honest. But there’s nothing I can do about it … He ran through me pretty much, trying to get back to the ball. To me, it was obvious. To them they made whatever call and picked up the flag,” former Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew said following the game.
Tony Romo’s jokes fall flat
Thursday night’s game was the first time most Eagles fans were able to hear former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo call an NFL game. For the most part, Romo did a good job, predicting plays before they happened and even called out a bad call or two by Morelli’s crew.
It's crazy how good Tony Romo has been in his first year. There is no NFL TV analyst I have learned more from this year.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) October 13, 2017
But during the first quarter, Romo made an objectively terrible joke about Eagles long snapper Rick Lovato being Demi Lovato’s husband (get it?) that went right over Jim Nantz’s head.
“You have been digging deep for nuggets,” Nantz responded.
Tony Romo is a Demi Lovato fan. pic.twitter.com/pYhdbLXjod
— Renato Mazariegos (@RPMSports18) October 13, 2017
Lovato seemed to take the joke in stride following the game.
— Rick Lovato (@TheSnappingLife) October 13, 2017
Romo also joked after CBS cut to the retired quarterback’s final NFL pass – a touchdown against the Eagles last January.
“Was it the last pass?” Romo asked.
“Don’t you dare start that,” Nantz shot back.
Tony Romo's last pass of his career was against the Eagles … or was it? Hmmm … Tony Romo: "Was it the last pass?" pic.twitter.com/3kfsk62jxe
— Brandon George (@DMN_George) October 13, 2017
Pre-game punditry gone wrong
Prior to last night’s game, the pre-game crew (a mishmash of CBS Sports and NFL Network analysts) were asked to predict who they thought would come out of Thursday night’s game with a win.
All four analysts – Marshall Faulk, Steve Smith, Bill Cowher and Deion Sanders – went with the Panthers.
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) October 13, 2017
Eagles WR gets baptized before game
Prior to the Eagles taking the field Thursday night, Eagles wide receiver Marcus Johnson shared a picture of himself on Twitter getting baptized in the pool of the team’s hotel in Charlotte.
Johnson, who was signed by the Eagles as an undrafted free agent following the 2016 NFL Draft, was surrounded by many of his teammates, including tight end Zach Eriz, linebacker Jordan Hicks and backup quarterback Nick Foles.
— Marcus D. Johnson📢 (@Mojomdj) October 12, 2017
Johnson, who caught his first NFL pass last week against the Cardinals, hauled in a 16-yard dart from Carson Wentz in the first quarter, keeping a drive alive that ended in a Jake Elliott field goal, giving the Eagles an early 3-0 lead.