Tony Corrente, Cassius Marsh taunting saga a stark reminder that NFL officials have way too much power

NFL officiating was at its worst on Monday night, most notably: Tony Corrente's taunting call on Bears' LB Cassius Marsh.

We’ve reached the point of NFL officiating absurdity where a player can cost his team a win simply by striking a pose — and a ref that throws the flag can hip-check that player as he runs off the field. That is what happened last night between Tony Corrente and Cassius Marsh in the Chicago Bears vs. Pittsburgh Steelers matchup.

Tony Corrente, Cassius Marsh taunting saga

Monday night’s Bears-Steelers national showcase is the crossing-the-rubicon moment in the nation’s debate over officiating. Refs were already granted an outsized amount of power in determining the game. But many of their calls are black and white. The new taunting emphasis — which has gone over like a lead balloon among players and fans — changed that dynamic, and not in a good way.

Officials are now asked to be mind readers, discerning intent from emotional celebrations. With power comes responsibility, but also often hubris. And the exchange involving Corrente (an NFL official since 1999) and Marsh (a Bears linebacker who’s on his eighth team in as many years) reeked of hubris.

Did Cassius Marsh taunt the Steelers’ bench?

The saga began with just over three minutes remaining in a 3-point game. Trailing the Steelers, the Bears needed a stop on 3rd-and-8 from the Chicago 47.

Marsh made that stop by sacking Ben Roethlisberger. But in celebration, he ran toward the Steelers’ sideline and posed for a moment before heading back toward his own bench.

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On his way across the field, he passed by Corrente, who appeared to stick out his backside to initiate contact with Marsh, and then threw a flag. The call? Taunting.

There’s a ton to unpack here, so let’s simply let the principals explain what went down.

Marsh, Corrente tell their sides

After the game, Corrente told a pool reporter the following:

“First of all, keep in mind that taunting is a point of emphasis this year. And with that said, I saw the player, after he made a big play, run toward the bench area of the Pittsburgh Steelers and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them.”

When asked if the contact between him and Marsh contributed to the penalty being called, Corrente replied:

“That had nothing to do with it. It was the taunting aspect.”

As you might imagine, Marsh saw things differently.

“I think it was pretty clear to anyone who saw it that I wasn’t taunting,” he said. “I’ve been doing the celebration my whole career. It’s just sad to see stuff like that happen in a close game like that. It’s just rough. I don’t want to say too much because you know how it is.

“The one thing I will say is that on my way to the sideline, I got hip-checked by the ref. It’s pretty clear. If I were to do that to a ref or even touch the ref we’d get kicked out of the game. Possibly suspended and fined. I just think that was incredibly inappropriate. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

Should the NFL discipline Tony Corrente?

Our eyes agree with Marsh. It did look like Corrente went out of his way to initiate contact — and then threw the flag.

Before we get much deeper into the weeds here, it should be noted Corrente’s crew had already had a terrible night even before this exchange. Bears head coach Matt Nagy rightfully lost his mind on the sidelines over several calls that went against his team, most notably when a touchdown was taken off the board by a phantom illegal low block call on Bears lineman James Daniels.

But that call, and the taunting flag on Marsh that extended the Steelers’ drive and eventually led to a field goal, were at a minimum a 6-point swing in a game the Bears lost by 2.

What are the ramifications?

In other words, the officials decided the game Monday night. And while it’s certainly not the first time that’s happened this year — ask the Cowboys about a missed OPI on Chris Godwin in Week 1 or the Lions about a missed Ravens delay of game in Week 3 — it’s the first time that an official’s objectivity has put so much in doubt.

Beyond the impact it has on competitive fairness — the loss all but ended the Bears’ playoff chances, while the win ensured the Steelers would enter Week 10 as the AFC’s sixth seed rather than its 11th — there’s the impact it has on gamblers. Roughly $12 billion — that’s billion with a B — is expected to be bet on NFL games this season. Fortunes can be won or lost on the pique of one man in stripes.

“This crew should be removed from officiating games for the remainder of 2021 and not have their contracts renewed for further years,” NFL agent David Canter tweeted after the taunting call Sunday.

Does the NFL agree? We reached out for a comment and will let you know when we hear back.

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