The first thought on this article… why only 5?  While there have been plenty of questionable calls all season long, especially those looked at through the eyes of the legions of homers for all 32 teams; after all, every team can lay claim to some bad calls going against them this year.  The ones listed here either had critical impact on the outcome of the game they were in, or were so blatantly obvious and bad, you have to wonder sometimes if these are the best zebras the NFL’s substantial coffers can afford.

#5 – “Backward Pass” that goes forward 3 yards – Cowboys @ Eagles (Week 8)

This one makes the list, even though it was ultimately overturned on an Andy Reid challenge… but it should never have come to that.  In the 3rd quarter, from the Cowboys 5 yard line, Michael Vick sets up a screen to Desean Jackson; Jackson promptly drops it 3 yards down field, but the referee (Gene Steratore) rules it a backward pass.  Let me reiterate; the ball traveled forward at least 3 yards, and the referee, who was right there, said it went backward!  Again, this play was corrected in replay, but the initial call was so horrendous, it was inexplicable that a coach had to use a challenge in that situation to begin with.

#4 Jake Ballard Near TD – Packers @ Giants (Week 13)

In the first quarter of a dogfight of a game, the desperate Giants need a win against the defending champs to bolster their playoff hopes, and at first glance it looks like Jake Ballard’s catch was clearly out of bounds.  But hold the phone… when looking at the play from several angles in slow motion and in still shots, it actually looks like Ballard’s right knee comes down by the slimmest of margins in bounds, which would mean this was a touchdown.  The more angles you look at, the more it slows down, the more it looks like Ballard was indeed in bounds and scored.  So surely the refs would see the same thing we all did right?  Right?  Oh… I guess not.  This ends up being a huge no-score, because the Giants lose this game by less than a touchdown, and if this ends up reversed, the Giants might at least have forced overtime and had another chance to close out the Packers and secure their playoff position.  Now, the Giants could very well not make it to the post season… but, this might just be karma for the #3 worst call in the league this year, which you’ll read about momentarily.

#3 – Victor Cruz “gives himself up” – Giants @ Cardinals (Week 4)

This was another inexplicable one.  Late in the 4th quarter, Victor Cruz makes a catch for a key first down to get the Giants into the red zone… he falls to the ground and as he gets up again, leaves the ball on the ground without being touched, and the Cardinals pick it up, thinking they got a treat.  Too bad they actually got a trick, as the referees called him down by rule of “giving himself up”, like a quarterback slide.  What???  When you watch this in slow motion, Cruz fell down (not necessarily on purpose), probably thought he was touched, so he got up and was going back to the huddle… without the ball.  How was this play any different from the Plaxico Burress infamous play where he caught the ball as a rookie, didn’t get touched when he fell down, got up and spiked the ball thinking the play was over?  The quick answer… it’s not.  Burress flubbed and fumbled, Cruz also flubbed and fumbled.  This was important because the Giants scored the winning touchdown right after this play, and had they lost that game, we might be talking about the Giants being just as bad as the Eagles this year at meeting expectations.  If the Giants do make the playoffs this year, like the Bengals not making it, they’ll be able to point at this game as one of the big reasons why.

#2 Holding on Punt Return – Packers @ Bears (Week 3)

This play was most notable for the very inventive punt return the Bears used late in the 4th quarter against the Packers, as Devin Hester and the entire Bears coverage team moved to the left as if Hester was catching the punt, but really the punt sailed right to Johnny Knox who stood all alone over by the sideline, caught the punt and no one was the wiser.  This would have been lauded as possibly the best play of the year, save for a holding call.  From just about every angle, it looks like #21 might have engaged a Packers defender momentarily, but if there was a hold, it was extremely ticky-tack… by the time any of the cameras have #21 in the frame, he’s already over 10 yards away from the defender.  So how muc holding could there really have been?  C’mon refs… best punt return ever, and you ruin it with an iffy hold.  The only reason this wasn’t #1 was the Bears were down by two scores with a minute to go, so likely this score did nothing except help them cover the spread.  Had the game been closer, this would have been number one.

#1 – Jermaine Gresham’s Near Touchdown – Bengals @ Ravens (Week 11)

Ok… I understand about the whole “catch in the endzone, need to keep possession all the way to the ground”.  I don’t agree with the so called “Calvin Johnson rule”, but it is what it is.  This Gresham catch though, doesn’t qualify to most people’s eyes.  Gresham juggles the ball after catching inside the 5 yard line, juggles the ball, regains possession BEFORE crossing the goal line, and then crosses the goal line with possession.  The reason why this matters is that he established the catch outside the endzone, which means this catch shouldn’t have been susceptible to the Calvin Johnson rule.  This one was very important, because it would have brought the Bengals within 3 points in a game that had huge playoff implications for both squads.  If the Bengals miss the post season, they can point at this game as a turning point for the worst that might very well be the difference between a playoff game and an early tee time in January.