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NFL Pass Interference?

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Is the NFL interfering with their own rule?

NFL: SEP 30 Bengals at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ever since fans have been watching the NFL there has always been a love - hate relationship with the people who officiate the games, the people who make sure one side doesn’t get an unfair advantage. When I say love - hate it is more closely associated with a extreme dislike - incredible dislike. NFL referees rarely get any love from the fans. In fact you know when the referees are doing a great job when they go unnoticed.

Sadly that is rarely the case. The NFL had to do something about how the 2018-19 season came to an end. Whether you were a fan of the Saints or not (I am not) you had to feel they were cheated by the way the NFC Championship ended.

In case you live in an igloo without a satellite dish for reception, the Saints were driving down the field late in the 4th quarter of the NFC title game in a tie game with the Los Angeles Rams. On a third down play this occurred...

Tommylee Lewis was wide open for a certain reception when he was obviously interfered with by Nickell Robey-Coleman. Had Lewis caught the pass he may have scored, but with less than two minutes to go the Saints could have run out the clock and kicked a chip shot field goal to win the game/ Since there was no call the Saints had to kick a field goal which left one minute and 40 seconds on the clock for the Rams to tie. The Rams used their time well and made their way down the field, kicked a field goal and tied the game.

What was worse (if it could be worse) for Saints fans was that Nickell Robey-Coleman said after the game that he knew he was beat on the play and intentionally interfered with Lewis to save a touchdown from happening. The Saints lost a chance to go to the Super Bowl because none of the seven officials on the field (who you presume all saw the play) decided not to throw a flag on a textbook description of pass interference.

Fans across the country were outraged. The anger bled into the Super Bowl lead up and into the game. How could it not? The Rams being there was a slap in the face to Saints fans and NFL fans in general. A team has to earn their way to win a championship and the non-call definitely changed the complexion of the Super Bowl.

The NFL hierarchy had to be livid with this situation as they had a chance to have two sure fire first ballot Hall of Fame players (Brady + Brees) duking it out for a championship. As it turned out you had Brady and an ill-prepared Jared Goff vying for the Lombardi Trophy. Goff had the deer in the headlights look with Bill Belichick’s defense keeping him off balance all day. The team that made 61 TDs and scored 535 points during the year did not cross the goal line once in the big game. They scored a grand total of 3 points.

So now the braintrust at 345 Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan had to come up with a way to pacify the fans and prevent another debacle from occurring. So they decided to allow the teams to use one or more of their game challenges on pass interference calls. Many called that opening Pandora’s box, but the NFL did it anyway. They made the rule change but hedged their bets by allowing themselves the ability to rescind the rule after the first year. My guess is they are going to rescind the rule.

Of the first 40 pass interference-related plays that were challenged this season, only seven were overturned. Between Weeks 3 and 5, only 1 of 21 challenges were overturned. Things have not been trending in a positive direction for these challenges.

It has now become even more apparent that the NFL is realizing they made a mistake with allowing these calls to be challenged. Blatant calls are being maliciously disregarded by the NFL inner circle of referees. I will give you just a few examples. As a caveat I would like to inform you I have no rooting interest of any of the teams in these examples.

In this play by the Colts T. Y. Hilton was called for offensive pass interference by the sideline official. Longtime referee and now NBC expert Terry McAulay actually laughed at this call. He said not only did Hilton not make contact on the play but that he was within the one yard window. If he had made contact it was a legal block.

This play was challenged. Being a Sunday night game (it is the only game playing at the time) it was reviewed by the Senior Vice President of Officiating of the National Football League Al Riveron. The play stood as called even though it was obviously a bad call.

Because it is New York and a Monday night game the call against the Giants Golden Tate was just as bad if not worse. I can’t find a better view of this I can upload for, you but on the play Jonathan Jones actually makes three penalties that are never called on the play.

First Jones impedes Tate 10 yards downfield which is illegal contact He then holds Tate as he comes out of his break and grabs his right arm as he jumps for the pass. You could not get a more blatant pass interference penalty, but Al Riveron took almost no time (after the red flag was thrown) in calling the play no foul. Mike Pereira who is the Fox Sports expert referee said “Look, I think we all would agree that is pass interference, because he grabs him.”

The rules clearly states pass interference occurs when an offensive or defensive player does something that “significantly hinders” an opponent’s ability to make a play on the ball. Jones grabbing Tate’s arm would certainly qualify as significantly hindering Tate’s ability to catch the pass.

Tate was not amused by the non call, “I’m really unclear what the rule is so I’m hoping we send it into the NFL and they explain to us what they see and what they think and why it wasn’t called.” His coach Pat Shurmur was more pessimistic, “We see that replay doesn’t overturn much so I’m not surprised.”

All of this is nothing new in the NFL. Like I said earlier, this has been happening for generations. The only difference is that the NFL told fans they were going to try and rectify the problems but has seemed to have changed their course in midstream.

This goes back to the 1975 NFC championship Game when a similar situation to the Saints fiasco happened against the Vikings. It was called the Miracle play or the first “Hail Mary” in NFL history.

Since Dallas was “America’s Team” it was recorded as a great play. In Minnesota it was viewed as offensive pass interference. I actually watched this play live (when I was much younger).You can see a orange object bounce across the field/.I thought it was a flag for an obvious pass interference but it was actually an orange thrown from the stands.

The Vikings were livid and received an unsportsmanlike penalty on the play. Drew Pearson (who caught the pass) said he was trying a swim move to get position for the underthrown ball but the result sent CB Nate Wright flying to the ground. Minnesota was considered the best team in the NFL at the time so to lose a chance for a Super Bowl win was heartbreaking for fans. To make matters worse Dallas had no play like a this Hail Mary pass in the playbook. It was just a quick “go long” from Staubach to Drew Pearson in the huddle. The play that started all the “Hail Mary’s” in the NFL was never practiced by the Cowboys.

The Cowboys weren’t so lucky in 2019 as they drew a pass interference penalty without any contact whatsoever.

Anthony Brown was called for this penalty which turned into a 40 yard bonanza for the Packers. Many people mistakenly called this face guarding, but there is no rule against face guarding in the NFL. The defender doesn’t really have to turn and look for the ball as long as he doesn’t forcibly contact the receiver. Again this was not overturned which got Cowboys coach Jason Garrett rather steamed.

Later in that game when an obvious pass completion was called out of bounds Garrett was overcome with resentment for the officials because he was now using his last challenge on a play that should have been an easy call for a seasoned official.

Garrett let his emotions get the best of him and even though he won the challenge (he had to the receiver was in bounds) the Cowboys were now first and 25 because he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. So the official calls a bad pass interference giving the Packers 40 free yards and miscalls an inbounds catch. The Cowboys are out of challenges, and get a 15 yard penalty.

The Packers felt the sting of a non call against the Eagles on a long pass play the week prior

This is a theme in the NFL. New coach Matt LaFleur said it best for all coaches, “I really don’t know what pass interference is anymore, I’ll just leave it at that.”

In the Bucs vs. Saints game which Tampa lost by a TD there was a bogus pass interference call not changed and a obvious offensive pass interference play on Michael Thomas that was not overturned. Those helped Tampa lose that game. Bruce Arians was livid, but it did little to change the result.

There are many more such examples, but you get the picture. The NFL is trying to eliminate the pass interference challenges all together by not changing the calls.Tony Dungy who is a pro NFL guy and a highly respected voice has shown exasperation over the calls. He noticed this back in early September, “These Pass Interference reviews by NFL officiating are not making any sense. Clear DPIs last week not overturned. Clear push off by Antonio Brown does not get overturned but Minnesota TD pass gets called back due to blocking downfield. Not sure what the standard is right now.”

The Tony Dungy quote that seems to sum up all our thoughts, “How clear and obvious does it need to be?”

I think what is clear and obvious is the NFL’s desire to eliminate the pass interference challenges altogether. If that is the case why not just change the rule now?

What do you think...