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Tim Graham: Replay mess is another reason the NFL is losing my interest

Tim Graham

A couple thousand hours of work and study are dedicated each week to the upcoming game.

About $170 million is spent on player salaries every year and many, many more millions paid to coaches, scouts, support staff and executives. Tax dollars build the stadiums and keep them upright.

The biggest investment, however, might come from the fans.

Players and coaches come and go, but the fans throw their money at tickets and merchandise, commit their energy, dedicate their time and hang their hopes on a team for generations.

All for what?

So an NFL replay official — in an office 170 miles away — can scrutinize rubber granules spattering from a bed of fake grass and eventually overrule the call of the field judge standing two feet away from the play.

That's what.

The Buffalo Bills could have taken a halftime lead but instead had to settle for a tying field goal because the NFL erased what field judge Steve Zimmer ruled a Kelvin Benjamin touchdown.

While I'm a believer in the butterfly effect, the reversal likely didn't make a substantive difference in what became a comfortable, 37-16 New England Patriots victory in Gillette Stadium.

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The final score, though, is incidental to my growing indifference toward football.

Based on Twitter reactions to Benjamin's overturned touchdown, I'm not alone.

We watch the games for entertainment, for a diversion from reality.

Increasingly, it feels like our time is being wasted.

How can we possibly enjoy a sport that revolves around passing when not even the coaches or players know what a catch is?

"It's just crazy because we put so much into it to get robbed like that," Bills running back LeSean McCoy said. "Come on. That was a touchdown, but it is what it is."

With two seconds left until halftime, Benjamin appeared to catch a 4-yard Tyrod Taylor toss over former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the back right corner of the end zone.

Zimmer pointed to the ground, indicating Benjamin had both feet inbounds, and then raised his arms to signal touchdown.

What the referee said about overturned Kelvin Benjamin TD catch

Buffalo thought it would take a 17-13 lead into the locker room.

Back in the NFL's officiating bunker at the league's Manhattan headquarters, chief officiating executive Al Riveron needed three minutes to review the play.

Riveron concluded Benjamin's left toe dragged inbounds, but not before Benjamin had secured the catch. Once the catch had been made, Benjamin's left foot didn't touch inbounds again.

Riveron's most recent predecessors, Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira, declared on Twitter that Buffalo's touchdown should have stood. The reason is there wasn't obvious evidence to overturn a call made on the field.

"Nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it," Pereira tweeted. "It is more and more obvious that there isn't a standard for staying with the call on the field."

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A week ago, the Patriots benefited from an overturned touchdown reception by Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James.

Replay officials determined James didn't secure the ball as he went to the ground in the end zone. The Patriots won by three points.

"Now that another touchdown has been taken away without clear and obvious evidence," Pereira tweeted, "it is time to move on to the catch rule. It doesn't work. It doesn't make sense."

NFL ratings are down about 9 percent compared to last year, although they remain boffo in Western New York.

In a letter this week to season-ticket holders and sponsors, Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass partly blamed poor attendance at M&T Bank Stadium on the team's one-time national anthem demonstration, which occurred in London.

The NFL is in denial if it wants to fault players who are trying to draw awareness to social injustice.

Far more significant:

* Common sense has evaporated from the replays process, wiping out compelling plays.

* The games too often are slogs. A second-quarter sequence of two-minute warning, Patriots timeout, Bills timeout and Patriots field goal lasted 4 minutes, 39 seconds in real time. Then there was another commercial break.

* Head injuries.

The Buffalo Bills take on the New England Patriots on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Bills cornerback Shareece Wright was concussed while tackling Patriots running back Dion Lewis with 5:57 left in the game.

Such occurrences used to feel routine, simply a part of the game we didn't dwell over.

That's not the case anymore.

Fourteen months ago, I wrote about how the NFL made me mentally check out after Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry detonated Bills safety Aaron Williams with an illegal crackback block.

Williams, with two previous neck injuries, was taken off the field in an ambulance for the second time in nine games. His career ostensibly is over.

Yet given what we know about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), that repeated head trauma can cause brain malfunction, memory loss, emotional instability, depression and suicidal thoughts, we still justify watching football as an escape.

We reason these gladiators are out there by choice, making a lot of money for risks they're aware and giving us a thrill.

There's no reason to bother when -- more and more -- the thrill is gone.

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