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No eliminating judgment on interference, so make it 15 yards

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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Brandon Marshall was grabbed before Darrelle Revis snagged a pick-6 on a key Week 6 play. (US Presswire)  
Brandon Marshall was grabbed before Darrelle Revis snagged a pick-6 on a key Week 6 play. (US Presswire)  

It's always something with the San Diego Chargers, and this time it's an unforgivable fumble by Philip Rivers that costs them an almost-certain victory.

Why am I not surprised?

But I would suggest Monday night's game never, ever should have come down to that play; that if officials hadn't made a questionable -- and that's being generous -- pass-interference call against Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, the outcome would not have been in doubt. That's because if Gates' touchdown stood, the Chargers would've gone into halftime tied at 10 instead of down by 10.

But it didn't stand, and that's why I'm here. Because I don't know what constitutes pass interference anymore, and frankly, I'm not sure officials do either. The Gates call should've been a non-call. Yeah, he made contact with safety Jon McGraw, but McGraw had hold of his arm, too. So officials should've just let it go.

Unfortunately, that's not how it works these days. The day before, I saw Miami's Brandon Marshall flagged for offensive pass interference after he made a sensational 26-yard catch. Replays seemed to indicate he did nothing wrong, with little or no contact initiated by Marshall, but that didn't help him or the Dolphins.

One week earlier in the same stadium, officials let San Diego cornerback Quentin Jammer get away with an obvious mugging, then called him for pass interference when it appeared that he committed no foul.

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The point is: There's no consistency to the call, and it's time the NFL does something about it. My suggestion is one I've pushed for years: Adopt the college rule and make the call a 15-yard penalty instead of a 40- or 50-yard foul that could swing the outcome of the game.

I mean, if officials won't enforce the penalty with consistency -- and they don't -- why make it the most pernicious foul in the game? Answer: You shouldn't.

"It's tough to officiate," said Mike Pereira, the league's former supervisor of officiating and now an analyst for Fox. "It's a hard call to make, and there are inconsistencies on all levels, both the pros and college. There's so much judgment involved with it, and it's becoming increasingly difficult -- with it given more attention than it's gotten in the past."

That's why the NFL rule as it currently stands should be junked. It's inconsistently called, and it's inconsistently adjudicated ... and let me explain. If there's defensive pass interference on, say, a 50-yard bomb to the goal line, the ball is placed at the spot of the foul -- in this case, the 1 -- and the offense is set up first-and-goal. But if there's offensive pass interference on the same play, it's a 10-yard foul from the previous line of scrimmage, with a repeat of down.

Tell me that's fair, because it's not. Now throw in officiating crews that hold the rule to different standards, and you've got a problem.

"The punishment is too punitive," said Pereira. "People tell me that if you change the rule you'll have defensive backs tackling receivers downfield if they've gotten behind them, and my response is: So what? You can kick someone in the teeth, and the maximum penalty is 15 yards, but if you commit pass interference on a Hail Mary at the goal line, it can be a 50- or 60-yard penalty."

Yeah, something doesn't seem right there ... especially when officials can't decide what pass interference is. I know, they can define it for you; it's what they interpret that's the problem, and I've seen too many instances this season where I'm not sure what they saw or thought they saw.

I don't expect that to change, because that's what judgment calls are -– subjective decisions. What I would expect is that the league admits that a judgment call like pass interference needs to be addressed, with its punishment lessened. You're not going to change officials' interpretations, but you can change the punishment.

So change it.

"They need to make it more equitable," said Pereira. "The penalty is as difficult to adjudicate in college as it is the pros, but I still see guys trying to make plays there. But if [NFL] officials think [defensive backs] are tackling receivers downfield, I'd be willing to put things in the officials' hands and tell them they have the freedom to place the ball at the spot of the foul."

I don't care what they do. I just care that there's consistency in the game -- and if there's no consistency in the calls, at least make the penalties for those calls uniform. My interpretation of holding may be different than yours, but at least we know it's going to cost the offending team 10 yards, right? With pass interference, it could cost it the game.

That didn't happen Monday night. The Chargers needed no help to beat themselves. But it will happen sometime, and maybe soon. So make sure it doesn't.

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