What are we doing? Every time I see the NFL review a pass interference replay and come back with a bizarre conclusion, I can't help but summon my inner Taylor Twellman. The latest came on Thursday night in the Green Bay Packers' home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, which turned in Philly's favor in large part because the Packers decided scoring points in the red zone wasn't necessary, but also because the officials in New York declined to make some pretty obvious reversals on pass interference challenges.
Let me make something clear: the Eagles probably got hosed too. There was a challenge by Doug Pederson that should have been overturned involving Alshon Jeffery being mugged. It was a bad challenge; not because he shouldn't have won the challenge, but because Pederson should have known, based on the previous play in question, it wouldn't be overturned.
Although as the NFL SuperFriends pointed out on the Pick Six Podcast on Thursday night (you can listen to some pretty aggressive ranting in the player below, make sure and subscribe right here), why not challenge when it feels like Al Riveron and the replay officials are sitting in a room blindfolded, with no TV on, spinning a wheel to determine random outcomes.
People always use the phrase "can of worms" right? Well the NFL changed replay this offseason and opened a can of worms and now the worms are all over the floor and no one is bothering to clean them up.
Here's the play in question at full speed, courtesy of the NFL Officiating Twitter account, which also includes an explanation from NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron, who said after reviewing the play "there was no clear and obvious evidence that Philadelphia #29 significantly hindered the opponent."
Some of us -- mostly those with eyes -- would beg to differ. My immediate thought when the play happened was the Packers should challenge for pass interference. It was a third-and-long situation and the Packers were driving to start the half, looking to take the lead and swing momentum back their way.
Clearly Marquez Valdes-Scantling believed he was interfered with on the play. He was looking around afterward in apoplectic fashion wondering where the flag was. Avante Maddox had his hand jammed in Valdes-Scantling's facemask as the ball was arriving.
Any claim that Maddox turned around and looked for the ball is auspicious at best. There were multiple times in this game where overmatched defensive backs were simply mugging Packers wide receivers. It actually might have been a decent strategy for them considering the circumstances, at least until Davante Adams left with an injury.
You could also easily make the case on the Packers' final play that Craig James bear-hugged Valdes-Scantling before the ball got to him, which would have set Green Bay up for a first-and-goal with plenty of time left and two timeouts remaining.
James is mauling the receiver before the ball gets there -- "a little bit early" as Troy Aikman said on the Fox broadcast -- but it's hard to throw a flag in that spot. It's why people don't love throwing slants in that situation. Ahem.
Perhaps you would prefer a more definitive angle?
Look, this is a bang-bang play at the end of the game. My immediate reaction wasn't "he got mauled!" but "what a stupid play call!" However, the NFL decided to make pass interference reviewable. Valdes-Scantling is getting bear-hugged before the ball arrives. There's no chance he's going to make a play on this ball and if anything else, he's likely to send the ball careening either to the ground or, worse, up in the air where it could easily be intercepted. That's exactly what happened, meaning that a non-call on pass interference where a guy was basically tackled with the ball arriving managed to impact the end of a pretty important football game in prime time.
Does that sound familiar to you?-- it's the same situation that unfolded in Rams-Saints during the 2018 NFC Championship Game without the benefit of an open field with which to watch a player build up a head of steam and tackle in the intended receiver. Plays near the goal line are tougher to judge.
But the NFL opened this Pandora's Box on its own. Because the Saints got hosed by the refs in a game where half the league's teams are hosed by refs on a weekly basis, the NFL decided to make pass interference reviewable.
What it feels like the officials and suits in New York really did was give themselves an out, a "break glass in case of emergency" option if someone is tackled during a high-profile playoff game so there aren't angry fans in the bayou filing federal lawsuits against Roger Goodell. The league doesn't want to be embarrassed by an inability to fix something that is obviously wrong.
That's a perfectly reasonable desire, but the solution to that problem can't be making a highly subjective call subject to additional discretion by a group of people who have shown zero inclination towards consistency in two years on the job.
Watch the Week 2 situation involving the Steelers and the Seahawks, where Pete Carroll successfully challenged a pass interference non-call that resulted in a Seahawks first down and probably flipped the game for Seattle. (You can see the full clip here on the Seahawks website.)
Look, this was pass interference. Almost no doubt pass interference. You can see Tyler Lockett being mugged as he's going up in the air.
But if that's pass interference, what did we get in Week 4 during the Packers and Eagles game? Riveron described the Lockett review situation to pool reporters as a case where they looked at multiple TV angles and believed the receiver "was significantly hindered by the defender."
"The ruling on the field was that it was an incomplete pass," Riveron said. "It was challenged by Seattle. We take a look at it and there were three or four TV angles that show us that there was clear and obvious visual evidence that the receiver was significantly hindered by the defender in his attempt to make a catch.
"I didn't say it was egregious. I said it was clear and obvious that he was significantly hindered. It is clear and obvious through visual evidence, which it was that he was significantly hindered, and that's why we put a flag on the ground."
Again ... what are we doing? Was Riveron scolded for his decision to overturn a pass interference play this early in the season? Are we moving the bar for what we're willing to reviewable? Initially, I saw what the Officiating account tweeted out and thought they might simply be looking at full-speed replays during their reviews.
But Riveron clearly stated in Week 2 that the officials at the league office -- in their giant command center with hundreds of televisions -- checked out multiple replays.
If that was egregious, the situation involving Packers receivers catching digits to the face should be considered a Class-A misdemeanor at worst.
The NFL literally invited coaches to challenge pass interference and then immediately made it more confusing as to what constitutes pass interference and/or what might be ruled pass interference on replay.
"I really don't know what pass interference is anymore, so I'll just leave it at that,".
Guess what, Matt: no one does. No one has a clue what constitutes an obvious and egregious attempt to significantly hinder a receiver from making a catch because the NFL and Riveron have obfuscated an already difficult to discern situation that has no precise methodology of objectively making a decision.
Essentially what we have here is The Catch Rule 2.0, only with pass interference, a more subjective and difficult to adjudicate process.
Maybe the league just likes controversy and faux football crises? That's my only explanation for this because there's no way this decision to make pass interference reviewable can be looked at as anything other an abject disaster through three weeks and change of the 2019 season. There's no rose-colored prism or optimistic lens you can look through to suggest this is something that will improve as the season moves along or that the NFL knows what it's doing with regard to pass interference.
What are we doing? There's definitely no answer right now.