TAMPA — The Bucs were trailing 27-23 late in the fourth quarter Sunday when quarterback Kyler Murray scrambled and, with outside linebacker Shaquill Barrett draped around his legs, threw an incomplete pass. Replays showed Murray’s knee hit the ground before releasing the football, which should’ve resulted in a sack.
Coach Bruce Arians was out of challenges, but he reached into his pocket of tricks and threw the red flag anyway.
It would cost the Bucs a timeout, but it was worthy bait to toss out for the zebras, who are an endangered species whenever Arians is on the sidelines.
“His (expletive) knee was down,’’ Arians screamed. “Jesus (expletive) Christ, his knee was down!’’
Arians is proficient in profanity, and the redder his face gets, the bluer his language becomes.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles heads for safe ground whenever Arians erupts at NFL officials.
“With Bruce, I walk the other way,’’ Bowles said.
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has heard it all as a player and now offensive coordinator for Arians.
“Unique,’’ Leftwich says Arians’ rants on refs. “Y’all got to mic him up one day and really listen to the whole game. You’d be amazed. You’d be amazed. But it’s just B.A. I mean he’s on the officials hard, just like he’s on everybody else hard. He wants it done the right way. That’s all he’s really looking for."
And here’s the most important thing: Arians is usually right.
He knows the rules, and just in case Arians is a little fuzzy about them, this year he hired former NFL official Larry Rose to sit upstairs and watch the game and TV monitors to know when and what to challenge.
The rules aren’t as black and white as the uniforms of the men who enforce them.
Each year, NFL coaches are asked to make more game-changing decisions by trying to overturn calls officials get wrong.
Because he has been in the league as a coach since 1996, officials know they will get an earful from Arians if they screw up.
“You ask them, they’ll say there is no line with me,’’ Arians said. “It’s all good. They know when they come into the locker room before the game, they know what it’s going to be like.’’
Over the last few years, officials have gotten quite a few calls wrong for the teams Arians has coached.
This season is a prime example.
In Week 5 at New Orleans with 8:34 in the first quarter, the Bucs punted to Deonte Harris, who fumbled and Tampa Bay’s Antony Auclair came up with the football. The refs called it a muffed punt but said Harris recovered.
Arians melted down on the sideline in what was a lip-reader’s nightmare. With the sound down, you would still have to cover the children’s eyes.
“That’s bleeping bull (bleep),’’ Arians screamed. “He came out with the ball!’’
Then at the start of third quarter, Saints receiver Michael Thomas broke free for a 42 yard gain. Arians thought it was offensive pass interference as Thomas clearly pushed off Vernon Hargreaves. Arians challenged the call and lost.
“If that’s not, I don’t know what the hell is,’’ Arians said afterward. “A two-handed shove that knocked the guy backwards. They said they were hand-fighting. Yeah, they were hand-fighting but that doesn’t knock a guy backwards.” He described both calls “baffling,’ after the Bucs had fallen to the Saints 31-24.
Perhaps the most egregious call is one that was never made several weeks ago at Tennessee. A quick whistle that erased a fumble return for a touchdown also blew the game for the Bucs.
Referees didn’t see that Brett Kern, the holder on the Titans’ fake 46-yard field goal attempt, lost the football when he was tackled by Devin White. Safety Andrew Adams scooped up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown, which would’ve given the Bucs a 30-27 lead with 3:41 remaining. But line judge Mark Stewart ruled that Kern was down by contract. Replays showed he clearly lost a fumble.
“My biggest thing is, you know, referees aren’t held accountable,’’ Arians said. “Coaches get fired, general managers get fired. Players get cut. Referees aren’t accountable and it’s a shame. It’s been that way for 40 years and now that we’ve got a new agreement, it will be that way for 40 more years.”
Hunting zebras is a family affair for Arians. His wife, Christine and son Jake are both active on Twitter and not shy about pointing out what they perceive as a problem in the NFL with officiating in general.
“I have no control over it,’’ Arians said of wife’s opinions on Twitter. “I don’t fight it either. I’m losing.’’
After the call went against the Bucs in Tennessee, Christine tweeted, “NFL officiating needs a fundamental fix. It does not need poorly trained, part-time officials who suffer no consequences for not doing their jobs. Instead, we get new collective bargaining agreement. Shame on you Roger Goodell."
When the NFL reached a seven-year deal with officials, she tweeted, “So much for the league re-thinking officiating from the ground up.’’
After the blown call at Tennessee, Jake Arians re-tweeted a video of his dad ranting about the blown call and said, “Nothing but the truth…and nothing will be done other than the fine coming for speaking the truth. Damn shame.’’
But Arians said the fine never came.
“The truth comes across sometimes,’’ he said.