Ball-spotting fiasco in Panthers-Bucs another tough blow for NFL officials

The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business. And yet, it still has no good way of spotting the ball after plays, which can lead to huge swings in games.

Luckily for the NFL, a weird moment Thursday night didn’t end up affecting the outcome of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Carolina Panthers game. But it easily could have.

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It started just before the two-minute warning. Panthers receiver D.J. Moore made a catch but was short of the first down. Then, when a second official spotted the ball, he wasn’t.

Spot of the ball clearly changed

Moore seemed to be short of the first down. Due to the yellow line on broadcasts, we’re all very aware of where the first-down marker is. The initial spot had Moore short of the first. It was going to set up a fourth-and-1 for the Panthers. Then everyone saw what happened next.

It’s an imprecise system, and the officials had to move fast because the Panthers were in hurry-up mode. But that can’t happen. The ball moved forward enough to go from it being fourth-and-1 (which seemed to be the correct spot) to first-and-10.

The game went to the two-minute warning, and when the broadcast returned it was first-and-10 for the Panthers. There was no challenge or review.

No challenge came from Bucs

The Buccaneers should have challenged before the two-minute warning, but were probably unaware of the incorrect spot. It was easy to see on television due to the yellow line superimposed on the field, and not so easy to see the ball moving forward a couple feet from the sideline.

It’s odd that after all these years there’s not a more precise system. Officials will eyeball the spot, which can be off by a lot sometimes, then measure the first down by the slightest measurement using the links of the first-down chain. It doesn’t make sense.

The NFL avoided what could have been a major controversy. Had the Panthers won, many Buccaneers fans would have cited that play over and over. As we saw at the end of the drive, the Panthers were no sure thing to pick up a fourth-and-1.

Alas, it might not be long until the next NFL officiating controversy sticks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians talks with officials during Thursday night's game. (Getty Images)

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab