Sam Shields interception highlights continuing confusion on NFL rules

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.

22 responses to “Sam Shields interception highlights continuing confusion on NFL rules

  1. The outcome of that play is irrelevant in the big picture. Cutler is showing off his terrible mechanics, which are the worst for any starting QB in the league.

    Pack will win this comfortably.

  2. Dear NFL and NFLPA,

    In the next CBA besides your money sharing stuff, please provide a clear definition of what constitutes a complete pass and what does not.

    Thanks,
    Frustrated NFL Fan

  3. This business about “the ball moved” is simply ridiculous. Used to be that a catch or an interception was made as long as the ball didn’t hit the ground before being controlled. Now we have super slo-mo replays to determine if a ball is moving a fraction of an inch? That’s ridiculous. This rule needs changing.

  4. They should be reviewing how Sam Shields became a starting CB for an NFC championship team when in college last year he couldn’t cover my little sister.

  5. Guys a joke.

    He’s always wrong.

    It was obviously a pick.

    Let’s face it, the Bears and their fat QB are an embarrassment.

  6. MDS, I think what you meant to type was “If McAulay and Pereira can look at the same play and not come to an agreement about whether it’s a complete pass, maybe the NFL needs a better-defined rule of what constitutes a complete pass, and for that matter, better defined rules altogether”

    Too many times have refs made “umm…bwah?” calls (and even reviews). I’m not saying it’s an easy job, but it’s a detail oriented job, and if you can’t get the details right, either you’re not suited for it, you’ve lost your edge, or the rules are THAT complicated.

    As I sit here and type this response, GB has picked off the Bears again (towards the end of the 3rd…and it probably won’t be ruled an INT), and as the defender dives to the ground to make the catch and lands, the original receiver is lying on top of him…yet the defender gets up and runs his return with no whistle. Isn’t lying on the ground with a defender physically on top of you “down by contact”? What the hell are these refs watching?

  7. That was a brief and lazy explanation by the ref. At least explain WHY the ruling stands. It was like he just wanted to get into the locker room and have his hot cocoa as quick as possible. People knock on Ed Hercule quite a bit, but he does give thorough explanations after a challenge.

  8. I don’t understand how when they initially called that Collins threw an INT in the 2nd half, they allowed the GB player to run another 20 yds even though it was clear the Bears WR’s fell on top of him and he should have been down by contact

  9. this will bring out the “IF” police. the guys who will say with certainty that IF the call was ruled not an int the bears would score, gain momentum and unltimately win

  10. Referees should not be permitted to make a ruling on a review without a complete explanation of why they are or are not reversing the call. If the explanation is adjudged incorrect by the league then the referee should be fined or suspended. A failure to thoroughly explain the ruling should be met with a more severe fine or suspension than an incorrect explanation.

    As a fan, I am tired of referees being given a free pass on their arrogance and incompetence. I’m not a fan of either team in today’s game (or any remaining team, for that matter), so I don’t have an interest here beyond wanting referees and officials to not ruin sports. This just seemed like a good time to share my view on this.

  11. Well, McAulay blew it. The ball was pretty clearly on the ground and there can’t be any dispute he was down by contact. McAulay must have decided on the former it was not clear… but we’ve all seen overturns on less than that…

  12. The Sheilds pick shouldn’t even have been reviewed. The ball is allowed to move when a player is going to the ground, (as long as it does’t touch the ground) on the playing feild. The only time it can’t move is when a player is falling OUT OF BOUNDS. The REFs on the field had it RIGHT. Joe Buck and CO. had it wrong!

  13. ” 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.”

    Pereira is not on the field and does not have the advantage of talking to the other refs to hear what they saw. Hence nothing to do with complexity but rather vantage point.

  14. Oh come on already, the rules are very clear. Also what is clear is who the refs bet on. They are taking a page right from the NBA. Such a shame a great sport like football is fixed.

  15. Initially I thiught it was a pick but after seeing the replay I believe it should have been ruled incomplete. How they let the advancement stand after calling it a pick is totally confusing as it was quite obvious that that contact was made as he went to the ground.

  16. The NFL should do away with their quixotic attempt at perfect rulings with instant replay and just understand that the officials are human and there will never be a perfect system.

  17. I don’t know what tv angles other people saw, but when I watched the game Shields appeared to have a hand underneath the ball when it hit the ground, though it wasn’t obvious whether the ball nonetheless touched the ground. Unless the ball clearly touched the ground, it can bobble around all day in Shields’ hands. If there is a definitive angle showing that it hit the ground, I am willing to take a look at it.

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