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Officiating cost both the Cardinals and 49ers Sunday

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, center, talks with side judge Rob Vernatchi (75) during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Has officiating gotten worse across the NFL?

Maybe, or perhaps the advent of replay and other technological advances have allowed us to better see mistakes that are made on the field.

At any rate, while it is almost expected that a team who loses a game will have some gripes about calls, lately it seems like even the victorious squad leaves the game upset.

Take Sunday’s Cardinals game against the 49ers, which Arizona won 19-13.

Whether it was lost downs, misinterpretation of rules or simply incorrect calls, it seemed like Pete Morelli and his crew just could not stop tripping over their own feet.  A total of 20 penalties were called in the game, with the 49ers being dinged 13 times for 81 yards and the Cardinals seven times for 41. Their performance was so bad (some might even say it equaled the Cardinals’, but that’s an entirely different story) that apparently the NFL decided they were no longer worthy of officiating next Sunday night’s matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Of course, that does nothing to help the Cardinals or 49ers, each of whom had to suffer through and play through a terribly officiated game.

Immediately after the game, 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said he would not comment on the officials while defensive lineman Quinton Dial, whose roughing the passer on Arizona’s game-winning drive was both questionable and critical, said he thought Cards QB Carson Palmer ducked into the hit and that he felt it was a legal play.

He admitted he does not really know what a pass rusher can do in today’s NFL.

“That’s a question that I really can’t answer,” he said of what he can and can’t do. “It seems like every year there’s something new. So, I can’t answer that question.”

That call is an example of one that relied on an official’s judgment. Maybe it was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t. But regardless, there is at least some gray area in which a referee can try to explain the decision.

Not so for the down the Cardinals were cost in the first quarter, after a two-yard run on first down from Stepfan Taylor should have been negated by a 49ers penalty, giving the Cardinals a first and five. Instead, it was second and three. Huh?

After the game, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said things weren’t as disjointed on his sideline as it looked from afar given all the penalties and strange calls.

“I thought our sideline was pretty calm, but the officials were struggling mightily,” he said. “I mean, they can’t count to three.”

As for an explanation for what happened, Arians said whatever he could have been told wouldn’t have really mattered.

“I got so many explanations I got tired of them, because they were just running out of them,” he said. “We played a pass on the first down, and I’m not sure the spot was correct. So, we hurry up and run the ball, and they got 13 guys on the field. We accept the penalty, that’s first-and-five. They marked it off second, and they gave us five yards after the play, which was wrong, and made it second-and-three. That’s not what we accepted, and that was the whole problem. So, it was a faux pas on their part.

“They can try to explain it, but they’re wrong.”

Not surprisingly, Arians and his quarterback believe the roughing the passer call was correct, and therein lies the rub with complaints about officiating. It’s easy and normal to be upset when a call does not go your way, but when one does, it’s amazingly less of an issue.

That’s not to say Arians and his team don’t recognize when they may have caught some breaks. After their win over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, Arians acknowledged how it was “a lot nicer” being on the positive side of some questionable calls.

And even Sunday in Santa Clara, the Cardinals — along with the roughing the passer call — benefited from a flag not being thrown for pass interference on Tyrann Mathieu’s interception as well as a handful of other plays. Then again, there were also some instances where the 49ers could have drawn more flags, and they did not.

“It’s tough man, game in game out — especially when you get in critical situations and you’re just so afraid to touch a receiver you don’t want to give them an easy flag,” Mathieu told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday of how inconsistent officiating impacts the game. “I remember the fourth and 20 from yesterday, we just all talked to each other like ‘Man, no one touch a receiver after five yards; let’s not give them a cheap first down.’

“It’s tough sometimes.”

For the most part, poor officiating does not favor any one team — it muddles up the game for everyone.

Monday, Arians was again asked if he had heard any additional explanations for what happened with the referees Sunday, and he replied, with a smile, “No comment on officials.”

Arians offered the same response when asked what he would change to make officiating better if he was in charge, which underscores the larger point: At the end of the day, there’s little he can do.

And really, there’s nothing any player can do, either, other than keep playing and hope things work out. San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman believes no matter what calls are made, officials don’t change the outcome of a game.

“It goes back to controlling what you can control,” he said Sunday. “Today was one of those days. I was in the zone so much that the calls weren’t really fazing me. That’s what we want to get to as a team. Don’t listen to the refs. They make the calls and I have yet to see a call changed after an argument has been presented. Save your energy.”

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