The NFL has confirmed that the referee botched the call when the Texans got away with roughing the punter on Sunday against the Colts.
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said in a video distributed to the media that Houston’s Bryan Braman should have been flagged for roughing Colts punter Pat McAfee. No penalty was called because the officials wrongly believed that Braman touched the ball before he hit McAfee, which would have negated the roughing call.
Blandino explained that when the referee thinks the ball has been tipped, he is supposed to turn on the microphone and make an announcement saying that the ball was touched and that’s why there’s no roughing. That informs the coach of the kicking team that he has an opportunity to challenge, if the coach thinks the ref was wrong and the ball wasn’t really touched.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said after the game that he was incorrectly told he couldn’t challenge the play. It’s not clear exactly what was said to Pagano, but in reality he could have challenged — and would have won the challenge. Although coaches can’t challenge whether or not a kicker was contacted by a player on the receiving team, coaches can challenge whether or not a kicked ball was touched. And in the case of plays where a roughing penalty depends on whether or not the kick was touched, that means the penalty can be challenged.
The rule is a bit confusing. It might make more sense for the NFL to simply change the rule so that all elements of roughing the kicker can be challenged. If a coach thinks the replay contains indisputable visual evidence that the call on the field was wrong, and he’s confident enough that he’s willing to spend a challenge and risk a timeout, that’s a challenge the NFL’s rules should allow the coach to make.