In the second quarter of the Cleveland Browns’ Week 6 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, the officiating crew appeared to miss a blatant false start on Chargers left tackle Russell Okung on a play that ultimately resulted in a Los Angeles touchdown.
But while the missed call cost the Browns in the form of the Chargers taking a 21-3 lead — en route to a 38-14 victory — it may have proven even more costly for the official who failed to throw his flag. According to FootballZebras.com, line judge Hugo Cruz has been fired by the NFL, effective immediately, marking the first time in the Super Bowl era that the NFL has fired an official in the middle of the regular season.
Per his pro-football-reference profile.com, Cruz wasn’t assigned a game during Week 7, after officiating five of the first six weeks of the season.
Neither the NFL Referees Association nor the NFL have responded to a request for comment.
It’s unlikely the missed call was the sole reason for Cruz’s firing — but the timing of his dismissal likely isn’t a coincidence. One of the seven sources FootballZebras.com cited told the website Cruz wasn’t “maintaining a very high level of performance over a sustained period,” while another said his future with the NFL was already in jeopardy.
Save for one game in which he served as an alternate, Cruz had failed to be assigned a postseason game in either of the previous two years. He was also assigned to three different crews over the course of the ongoing season, an oddity according to the site.
Cruz had served as an NFL referee since 2015.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, officials have become a familiar foe for the Browns this season. After the league admitted a strip sack vs. the Oakland Raiders which likely would have resulted in a touchdown return shouldn’t have been blown dead, the league admitted that a flag thrown following a helmet-to-helmet hit against quarterback Baker Mayfield during the team’s overtime loss vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week shouldn’t have been picked up.
“After the fact, it doesn’t really matter,” Mayfield said. “That’s just one of those things that in the moment, you’ve got to be able to call that.”