I hate to pile on the NFL here, but when the story of the season is that fewer people are watching football, it’s worth drawing attention to one of the sport’s most irritating features: the terrible pass interference call.
Saints coach Sean Payton was steamed following New Orleans’s close win over Carolina on Sunday. It wouldn’t have been nearly so close without a gift flag, a pass interference call on safety Kenny Vaccaro on a fourth-down pass to Greg Olsen in the third quarter. I can’t find video of it now, but Vaccaro appeared to get inside Olsen, turn his head back toward the ball, and bat it away cleanly. What could have been a turnover on downs instead set the Panthers up with a first-and-goal from the 1, and they scored on the next play.
Payton said he wished he had been able to challenge the call, and was confident it would have been overturned on replay. On Monday, he reiterated his call for the NFL to make pass interference penalties reviewable by officials.
“It has been (discussed) and for good reason, and let’s hope that that at some point is (addressed) sooner than later,” Payton said on a teleconference Monday. “Listen, it’s been brought up and discussed by a number of clubs, and I think the Competition Committee needs to spend a lot more time thinking about that specific call is so critical to get right.”
This is a less-radical version of Bill Belichick’s “everything should be challengeable” proposals, but pass interference can be huge. They swing drives and often games, giving offenses a fresh set of downs and a big chunk of yardage. The Saints still won their game, but it was more of a tight-run thing than it should have been, and players were still upset about the call afterward.
The Giants, too, ultimately emerged with a win on Sunday, no thanks to a baffling defensive pass interference call on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie late in the game.
There was some handfighting between Rodgers-Cromartie and receiver Breshad Perriman, but the Giants corner had the inside route the entire way, and if anything, there should have been an OPI call.
“Initially, I wanted to take my helmet off and throw it, but I can’t argue calls,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I’ve never been one to argue calls. Even though it was a crucial call, I’ve got to live with it because that’s the decision that he made. No matter what I do, he’s not going to overturn it, so I just chilled.”
Of the weekend’s terrible officiating decisions, the biggest one was a no-call on Richard Sherman on a Falcons fourth down late in Seattle’s 26-24 win. Sherman appeared to hook Julio Jones’s arm, a textbook penalty, but no flag was thrown and Atlanta never got the ball back.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he would send the play to the NFL for review—not that he expected anything to change, but just to send a message to the league that its officials cost Atlanta a chance to win the game.
The NFL has stood firm against making pass interference calls challengeable, for an understandable reason: Once you make one judgment call reviewable, where do you draw the line? (Remember that Belichick’s answer is not to draw any line and to open everything up to review.) But there has to be some logical, uncontroversial apparatus to reverse truly obvious injustices.
It’s not as if this isn’t operating smoothly elsewhere. The CFL is in its third season of allowing reviews of both pass interference penalties and no-calls, and aside from a couple of crusty columnist complaints, the system seems to be working well for everyone. In the fourth quarter of last season’s Grey Cup, Edmonton successfully challenged a no-call on a play that saw an Ottawa DB smash into a receiver before the ball arrived. The officials reviewed it, ruled it a penalty, and the Eskimos scored the go-ahead TD with two minutes left. The correct call got made; that should be all that matters to anyone.