For those of you still clamoring to have the NFL eliminate pass-interference calls and non-calls as reviewable plays under the NFL’s instant-replay system, we point you to Exhibit A for why it should stay. And why it made sense to add interference in the first place.
It was Jets’ ball, third-and-18 from the Dolphins’ 46, with Miami leading 21-19 in the final minute of Sunday’s game. The Jets needed a minor miracle to get in position for a game-winning field goal, but there was none — only an incomplete pass from Sam Darnold to Vyncint Smith over the middle, broken up by Dolphins rookie cornerback Nik Needham.
It was fourth-and-forever with 43 seconds left, and it looked as if the Jets were done. Darnold listened to the call from Adam Gase, a desperation play to keep the Jets’ flickering hopes alive. Then referee Craig Wrolstad announced that the incomplete pass to Smith was being reviewed.
There was no call on the play, but NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron told Wrolstad that he wanted to see if Needham made contact with Smith before Darnold’s pass arrived. After a couple of minutes, Wrolstad announced to the MetLife Stadium crowd that pass interference did indeed occur, and the Jets were awarded a first down at the Miami 38.
Four plays later, Sam Ficken kicked a 44-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Jets a 22-21 win.
In this case, replay got it right. Even if the game meant nothing in terms of the playoff race — neither the Jets nor Dolphins will play in January — the NFL now has a mechanism to correct an officiating error. That was precisely what happened Sunday, and that’s what could happen when the stakes are higher.
That’s why interference calls and non-calls were added to the menu of reviewable plays in the first place.
When last season’s NFC Championship Game between the Saints and Rams was decided by an obvious pass-interference penalty against the Rams that was not called, owners decided to include interference as part of the replay system.
It was adopted on a one-year basis and was intended to address “clear and obvious” plays that the officials got wrong.
Riveron ultimately is responsible for making the call, and in a pool report after the Jets-Dolphins game, he said,
“After we look at it, we get a couple of replays which show us that it’s clear and obvious that the defender grabs the receiver by his shoulder, turns him prior to the ball getting there, and significantly hinders him before the ball arrives. Therefore, by rule, that’s pass interference.”
It was interference, and the correct call was made, though not to the satisfaction of everyone.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores was livid after the reversal and screamed at the officials. He continued his rant after the game ended on Ficken’s field goal, yelling some more before meeting Gase for a postgame handshake.
Flores declined to publicly chastise the officials. Asked why he was so upset at the end of the game, he replied, “I was upset that we lost the game.” He later added, “I’m not going to answer any questions about the officiating.”
Flores’ anger was understandable, because that was a game-changing call right there. But in this case, it was the correct call, and that’s what really matters when we’re talking about replay addressing the obvious call.
Though it was a bang-bang play that might not have presented an obvious interference call to the officials in real time, the review resulted in the correct call.
And that’s the whole point of replay. Get a closer look to see if a judgment call is accurate, whether it be a touchdown, turnover or, as has been the case this year, an interference call or non-call. If replay presents sufficient evidence to change the call, then that’s the way it goes.
There have been some significant glitches in the system, though, most notably the lack of reversals.
Earlier this season, critics of including interference calls and non-calls this year correctly pointed to an inconsistent standard by which calls were made. It seemed that far too often, Riveron was not willing to use the clear and obvious threshold to make his rulings.
It almost made you think that the league second-guessed its own new rule and didn’t want to enforce it.
Asked if he thinks calls of defensive pass interference (and non-calls) are being overturned more often now than earlier in the year, Riveron replied: “We treat each one individually. We basically look at each call, at each play on an individual basis and then we apply the rule . . . It is not being applied any differently than it was at the beginning of the year.”
It sure seems as though it’s being applied differently. But more importantly, it’s being applied correctly.
That was the case Sunday.
And let’s hope that’s the case when a play involving two teams playing for a Lombardi Trophy is ruled correctly upon further review.