By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Through the entirety of the preseason and the first four weeks of the NFL season, Al Riveron and the NFL made it quite clear that absent a Saints/Rams level miscue by on-field officials, a replay and/or a challenge for pass interference was simply not going to be changed after a review. This applied whether a call was made or not made on the field.
Essentially, whatever the officials called was going to hold up on review, no matter what.
That’s why, as the Mike Tomlins and Jay Grudens and and Sean McDermotts and Jason Garretts of the world wasted challenge after challenge for plays they never had a chance of changing, the spectacle was quite comical. Weren’t these coaches seeing what was going on around the league?
Alas, the tenor changed on Sunday night, when Frank Reich became the rare coach to properly throw a challenge flag after T.Y. Hilton was improperly called for offensive pass interference. The penalty negated a 12-yard connection from Jacoby Brissett to Jack Doyle on a third-and-2 on the K.C. 40-yard line, and it forced the Colts back into a third-and-12 from midfield.
TY didn't even do anything 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/6LfF7em4JN
— #BusinessAintBoomin (@ftbeard_17) October 7, 2019
Despite the fact that the contact Hilton made took place within a yard of the line of scrimmage, and despite the fact that the contact was minimal at best, Riveron ruled that indeed, referee Craig Wrolstad’s officiating crew on the field made the correct call.
Riveron’s ruling suggested that in fact, the men in stripes had not badly bungled a critical play in a fairly important point of a nationally televised game.
That was the exact moment that it became clear that this new system for reviewing pass interference is a complete and total farce. It is a sham.
It was a system established under a premise of false humility from a league that has never once displayed that quality in a genuine fashion. It was a system born out of shame for an inexcusable mistake made in the NFC Championship Game, an unfathomable gaffe that cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. It was a necessary change, because the advancements in camera technology combined with the ever-increasing speed of the game has made the jobs of referees and officials extraordinarily difficult. A safety net of sorts is not a bad idea.
Yet that added layer of protection only exists in theory. In actuality, it’s not there.
To review: In the Chiefs-Colts example from Sunday night, the crew on the field created an imaginary offensive pass interference penalty out of thin air. A foul simply did not occur. Yet given the opportunity to make up for this clear and simple mistake, the Riveron — on behalf of the NFL — doubled down.
Even Wrolstad couldn’t believe it.
What if I told you … that NFL officiating … was bad? pic.twitter.com/O1KPvaHUzK
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 7, 2019
It’s to the point where if Tommylee Lewis were to get decleated by Nickell Robey-Coleman in the same exact scenario as happened last January, it’s doubtful that Riveron would enforce a pass interference penalty on review.
And there should be very little confidence that the Riveron will rectify another bad officiating flub, if/when one takes place in another playoff game this coming January.
In the case of Sunday night, the Colts overcame the injustice, with Brissett connecting with Marlon Mack for an 11-yard pickup on the resulting third down, and with Mack picking up three yards on a fourth-and-1 rush off the right side. The Colts ended up draining half the clock in the fourth quarter and ending the drive with a field goal to make it 16-10 at the time. Those proved to be the game-winning points.
That the Colts were hit with an utterly bogus pass interference penalty on the following Chiefs possession, and the fact that the Chiefs were hit with a ridiculous facemask penalty earlier on that drive? That didn’t help matters for the league’s officiating problems, either, but that’s been the case forever.
Likewise, when officials in Dallas showed a lack of maturity …
Wonder what this ref told Jason Garrett to make him so mad lol pic.twitter.com/n2pb7KBX5z
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 6, 2019
… it didn’t look great for the league. Yet that is not necessarily anything new.
The system for reviewing plays for pass interference — called or uncalled — is new. And it could be a functional system. Alas, at this point in time, it clearly is not.
Again, the NFL established very early on that the standard for overturning or enforcing an uncalled penalty after the fact was extremely high for pass interference. Dolphins head coach Brian Flores successfully challenged an uncalled offensive pass interference in Week 2, but other than that, it’s been failure after failure for NFL head coaches, no matter how good of a case they might have had.
It was clear that the NFL instituted this new system so that it could appear to have a safeguard in place for another instance the officiating disgrace that marred the third-biggest football game of the 2018 season. It’s just as clear, though, that through five weeks of the 2019 season, the review process exists in name only.