Former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira has done a great job as a FOX analyst this season, clearly articulating the often complex rules of the NFL in a way that fans can understand. But he’s done an even better job of doing something he probably hasn’t intended to do: Exposing that the NFL has rules so complex that even the guy who used to oversee the league’s referees sometimes isn’t sure what a ref is thinking while he examines an instant replay.
It happened again at the end of the first half of the NFC Championship Game, when Green Bay’s Sam Shields intercepted a pass. The play was reviewed on replay, and Pereira said referee Terry McAulay should reverse the call on the field for two different reasons. But McAulay saw the play differently from Pereira on both fronts.
There were two issues: First, the ball moved as Shields came down with it, so it could have been ruled an incompletion rather than an interception. Second, Bears receiver Johnny Knox touched Shields as he was going down, so Shields could have been ruled down by contact where he hit the ground, and his eight-yard return could have been nullified.
“Two things they’re going to look at,” Pereira said on the air while McAulay reviewed the replay. “No. 1, is it an interception? If they deem that it is, then they’ll have to go back and see if he’s down by contact — which he really was, and you wouldn’t have the advance. But to me, that ball comes loose when it does hit the ground. I think that’s going to be reversed.”
McAulay, however, let the play stand as an interception with an eight-yard return. McAulay didn’t explain himself; he simply said, “After review, the ruling on the field stands.”
It’s one thing for two fans sitting on their bar stools to disagree about whether a ball was caught or incomplete. It’s quite another for one of the highest-graded referees and the former head of referees to disagree. If McAulay and Pereira can look at the same play and come to different conclusions about whether it’s a complete pass, maybe the NFL needs a better-defined rule of what constitutes a complete pass.