The league has given officials a chance to take a second look at pass interference calls this season. The new rule has only caused more controversy
Lets get this out of the way first: theres no way a non-call ended up costing the Houston Texans the game on Sunday. The Texans ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens 41-7 for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that Lamar Jackson threw for four touchdowns. Still though, theres every reason for the Texans to be upset that NFL officials refused to make a clear pass interference call despite the benefit of reviewing the play.
The play in question came when Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey grabbed Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone to break up a pass. Although the ruling on the field was an incomplete pass, Texans head coach Bill OBrien challenged the call. Despite being about as clear cut of an example of defensive pass interference as one will find, the officials as has been the norm since the NFL gave coaches the ability to challenge PI declined to penalize the Ravens. If OBrien had successfully challenged, the Texans would have had a first down on the Baltimore one-yard line, pretty much the ideal situation for them to pick up seven points. Instead, the team lost a time out and they failed to score.
I have no idea what pass interference is anymore, OBrien said after the game, with the very clear implication that he wasnt the one who was confused about the definition.
It was not the best day for the officials, as the Minnesota Vikings 27-23 comeback win over the Denver Broncos was also marred by a no-call, this time on the final play of the game. Broncos fans were quick to jump online to express their outrage, but at least, in this case, they didnt have to see officials miss the call twice.
Its the failure of the challenge system, however, that seems to be a larger source of frustration. Hopkins went out of his way to call out NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron. As a leader in the NFL, Hopkins tweeted out, we need someone new in New York deciding calls.
This could all sound like sour grapes from a team that were pretty much demolished on the field after the call. Houston quarterback Deshaun Watsons remarks that it could have been a changing point of the game. A momentum switch, ignored the fact that this was a one-sided game and its hard to imagine an early touchdown making that much of a difference. That shouldnt distract from the reality that Hopkins is 100% right. Before Sunday night, coaches lost 32 of their last 33 challenges of pass interference calls. Now, as with all challenges in the NFL, a healthy percentage of those flags were doomed to begin with, so its understandable if a majority of the calls stand.
However, the overwhelming numbers make it clear that the referees simply are not going to overturn pass interference calls or non-calls that meet the criteria of clear and obvious visual evidence. The rule change was supposed to at least give officials an out, a way to prevent game-changing mistakes like the missed call that occurred in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game last season. Instead, it appears that officials are more concerned about preserving the illusion of their own infallibility.
If this continues to be the case, its hard to see the NFL keeping the pass interference challenge rule around as is. At some point, coaches are going to just hang on and use their flags for situations where they stand a decent chance of coming out ahead. The discontent around the league could be enough for the NFL to scrap the experiment after a single season.
Stat of the week
49,383. Thats the number of yards thrown by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in his career after a 311-yard performance in Sundays 29-3 victory over the Carolina Panthers. It vaulted him over Warren Moons 49,325 passing yards, and into 10th on the NFLs all-time list. Its a reminder of how great the 2016 MVP has been despite the fact that hes often been overshadowed by the eras other brilliant quarterbacks.