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Spotty job

11/17/2011 - NFL
Referee Clete Blakeman catches a football during the Week 4 Houston Texans-Pittsburgh Steelers matchup. Rob Tringali

A version of this story appears in the Nov. 28 "One Day, One Game" issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Down 10-0 in the third quarter, the Steelers faced third and six from the
Houston 45 when Antonio Brown made a leaping catch for a seven-yard completion and a first down. Or so it appeared to line judge Jeff Seeman. He spotted the ball at the 38-yard line, where Brown had secured the catch while in the air. One problem: When the receiver's feet landed, the ball was closer to the 39. Had Seeman marked the ball there, as the rulebook says he should have, it might have forced Pittsburgh to try to convert a fourth down. Instead, the Steelers' drive lasted five more plays and resulted in a TD.
Just an isolated error, right? Not quite.

I reviewed every spot made in this game and discovered 12 instances in which officials spotted the ball at least one yard away from its correct mark:

And it wasn't just this game where spot mistakes were an issue. A review of the entire slate of Week 4 games showed that 7.1 percent of all of NFL plays were spotted wrong by at least one yard. Here's my full analysis: