I saw it live last night and YES it is real. If you ask me the ref is protecting himself. The players have all the equipment to protect them and the refs have nothing. The ref was getting popped regardless so I don't blame him for lowering his shoulder to absorb the blow.
I understand protecting yourself when a play is coming toward you, but this ref took at least two steps toward the play, lowered his shoulder and extended his legs up toward the quarterback. There was nothing accidental or self-preservation-like there.
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