By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Am I going nuts?
Don’t answer that.
But. Also. Am I going nuts?
I’ve got no other conclusion at which to arrive after witnessing some real, bona fide criticism to a very proper application of the NFL’s new rule that allows coaches to challenge plays where pass interference may have been missed.
It came in the preseason meeting between the Jets and the Giants on Thursday night. Jets receiver Tim White ran a go route up the right sideline against Giants cornerback Corey Ballentine. The corner was able to extend an arm to break up Davis Webb’s pass, leading to an incompletion.
The Jets, though, felt that Ballentine made some illegal contact, so head coach Adam Gase threw a challenge flag. After a review, the call was overturned.
Watching the video, it’s easy to see why. The corner very clearly grabbed White’s wrist and never let go, with Ballentine essentially pinning the receiver’s arm against his torso.
“In #NYJvsNYG, the defender significantly hinders the receiver’s opportunity to catch the ball. The ruling on the field is changed because there is clear and obvious visual evidence of defensive pass interference.” – AL pic.twitter.com/DPiORSHdMd
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) August 9, 2019
Perhaps you’ve never played in the NFL before, and perhaps you’ve never played football before, and perhaps you’ve never caught a single thing in your life. Maybe when a pal has tossed you a roll of paper towels, you’ve let it just bounce off your sternum, unable to react, unaware of what arms and hands can do.
If any of that is the case, allow me to carefully explain: It becomes tremendously more difficult to catch a football (or anything else) when you are running at full speed and only have the use of one of your two arms at your disposal. Very challenging.
So the NFL officials rightfully applied pass interference to the play in question. The successful challenge gave the Jets 33 yards and a fresh set of downs. The Jets being the Jets … they moved backward two yards and eventually punted anyway.
Nevertheless, the pass interference challenge was instantly criticized by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio:
Not good. Bar needs to be higher to overturn judgment call of no PI. https://t.co/yHE0FM5GTl
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 9, 2019
Florio, as they say in the Twitter world, got ratio’d, with 250-plus replies compared to just 58 retweets. Many, many people were quick to inform the Pro Football Talker that the cornerback did actually pin the receiver’s arm down, thus making it an easy and good call. Just because this infraction was not evident to the naked eye on the broadcast view at full speed does not mean that it did not happen.
Florio didn’t respond to many Twitterers, but he did reply to NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran. It was slightly dramatic!
Is this what we really want? Or do we want only truly obvious errors overturned? It’s not truly, clearly, and plainly obvious.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 9, 2019
Is this … what we truly want????
Not the hill to die on.
“OK,” you may be saying, sitting at your desk, reading this drivel. “So one guy who runs a website said something that wasn’t on the money. Must you really write a whole story about it?”
Well, first I’d say, yes, absolutely. It’s August and we need content, baby! But secondly, I’d add this important bit: Tedy Bruschi, a man who is slightly more familiar with the ins and outs of NFL football than the Website Maker Man, also took issue with this application of the rule.
This rule could be a problem… https://t.co/g1gav99cMt
— Tedy Bruschi (@TedyBruschi) August 9, 2019
Ted. Tedy boy! Say it ain’t so!
While Bruschi’s opinion as a three-time Super Bowl champion and All-Pro/Pro Bowl linebacker carries quite a bit of weight, it also comes with the obvious notation that defensive players are not going to like any new rule that makes it harder to play defense. Certainly, the defenses in which Bruschi played helped bring about this new era of pass-happy NFL football, because those early 2000s Patriot defense were too exceptional at playing defense. It brought about, among other things, The Ty Law Rule, which made it almost impossible to play cornerback in the NFL. So Bruschi’s frustration with such a rule change is almost to be expected.
It’s all still a bit weird, though, because this was an obvious case. The officials on the field missed the pass interference being committed in real time because it’s difficult to see everything. The Jets challenged, and the officials made up for their mistake by properly applying the penalty that should have been called. This is a good thing! (And that’s coming from someone who is loath to ever give the NFL credit for getting anything right, ever.)
Causing a stink over this instance seems like a swing and a miss.
Elsewhere in the NFL, we saw a challenge for pass interference in the Patriots-Lions game. This one involved David Fales throwing a pass up the left sideline to Travis Fulgham. Rookie cornerback Joejuan Williams clearly made some contact with Fulgham, so Matt Patricia fired his challenge flag from the water table on the Lions’ sideline.
During that review, on the Patriots broadcast, both retired linebacker-turned-analyst Rob Ninkovich and retired-quarterback-turned-analyst Scott Zolak figured that a pass interference penalty would be applied, given that some contact did occur. Lo and behold, the NFL ruled that not enough contact had taken place (and/or the ball was uncatchable, and/or the receiver wasn’t even looking at the football and thus had zero chance to have made the catch even if Williams had veered off to purchase popcorn in the stands during the play) to warrant the creation of a flag out of thin air.
For the sake of record keeping, this is the exact play where we all worried “you can find PI on every play if you slow it down.” Yet the NFL, on review, said it wasn’t enough contact to warrant a PI flag.
That is good. pic.twitter.com/JLafmTkAC8
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) August 9, 2019
Play resumed. Fales was sacked on the next snap. The Lions punted. The world kept spinning.
This is the exact type of play that had everybody worried all spring. This was the type of play that would ruin football as we know it. And yet, in a matter of maybe two or three minutes at most, the non-call was allowed to stand, and life went on.
It’s almost like … the new rules that allow coaches to challenge for pass interference won’t decimate the sport and the league for eternity. It’s not going to be perfect, but if it fixes some obvious missed calls (like the one in the meaningless Jets-Giants exhibition, or the one in the rather meaningful Rams-Saints postseason meeting) and functions well enough on the others, then the league really does not have a crisis on its hands here.
Seems like, for now, it’s not that bad.
Either that, or I’ve just gone crazy. Hey, maybe we all have. Closely following the nuances and intricacies of NFL rule challenges for the last decade can have that effect.