Former NFL official Gerry Austin, who worked games from 1982 through 2007, currently serves as an officiating consultant with ESPN, addressed on Monday the controversial call from Sunday’s Lions-Cowboys game during an appearance on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning.
Austin explained that the non-call was justified by the fact that tight end Brandon Pettigrew was moving away from the contact with Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, and thus was not impeded by Hitchens.
“The one thing that I would say that makes that not a foul is that the receiver is still going away from the ball,” Austin said. “So that makes the contact basically incidental. I don’t think the flag should have been put on the ground.”
Austin added a key caveat.
“Once the flag was on the ground, I think it should have stayed,” Austin said.
And that makes no sense. It’s a foul or it’s not a foul. Throwing the flag in real time should not prevent consultation and a correction. Indeed, the league expects that type of communication.
The problem here is that referee Pete Morelli, as the head of a mashed-up “all-star” crew, had a responsibility to properly harmonize the opinions of back judge Lee Dyer and head linesman Jerry Bergman. Dyer thought it was interference; Bergman thought it was merely face guarding, which is legal.
Morelli should have straightened it out before announcing to the world that Hitchens had committed pass interference. The mixed signals from Moreli created the perception of a mess — inviting conspiracy theorists and those inclined to believe based on recent off-field developments that the league makes things up as they go along to conclude that the fix was in. Even if it wasn’t.
The game broadcast also reveals that Hitchens got away with holding, grabbing Pettigrew’s shirt. (The hold apparently happened just before the ball was thrown. If the hold came after the ball was thrown, it was separate evidence of interference.)
Then there’s the Dez Bryant situation. He wasn’t flagged for coming onto the field to argue the initial call. Austin said that, if Bryant left the field quickly, the inclination would be to not penalize him. Which meshes with the explanation from Sunday night that, in the heat of the moment, the officials gave Bryant a little leeway.
We’ll try to clear it all up later today, when NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino makes a phone call to the first ever three-hour radio edition of PFT Live.