Although NFL officials should have the same post-game media requirements that players and coaches fulfill (except when they choose not to), the league periodically makes a referee available to a pool reporter after a call, or a non-call, that cries out for in-the-moment explanation from the person who made, or didn’t make, it.
On Saturday night, the league made referee John Parry available to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times regarding a very questionable decision to blow dead a play late in the first half, when Parry concluded that Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was in the grasp and control of a tackler.
The decision was questionable only because Prescott was in the grasp not of a tackle but of a teammate.
“From my view the quarterback’s progress had stopped moving forward,” Parry said. “There were hands around him and another defender was coming, so we went in the grasp to protect the quarterback.”
Again, the “hands around him” belonged to a teammate, not a tackler.
“In the grasp is designed to protect the quarterback,” Parry said, reiterating that Prescott was “no longer moving forward.”
So was his forward progress stopped, or was he in the grasp?
“Hands around the quarterback from my view,” Parry said.
Neither principle applies where the offensive player has a teammate’s arms around him. The “in the grasp” rule doesn’t, as made obvious by the plain language of the rule: “The Referee must blow the play dead as soon as the passer is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler behind the line, and the passer’s safety is in jeopardy.”
Prescott’s teammate wasn’t a tackler, so Prescott couldn’t have been “in the grasp.” While the rule book doesn’t have similar clarity regarding whether a teammate can sufficiently impede the ball carrier’s forward progress to end a play, clarity isn’t needed because at some point common sense takes over.
Here’s what Parry should have said: “Because it’s so rare to see a quarterback in the grasp of a teammate, I accidentally concluded that the arms around the quarterback belonged to a tackler. With another defender closing in, I blew the whistle in order to protect the quarterback.”
Parry should have said that because that’s most likely the truth. The sooner the NFL embraces the truth in situations like this, the sooner the NFL will dissuade the tin-foil hat crowd from suspecting (as they currently do) that last night’s game was rigged in favor of boosting the fortunes of the predominant team in the nation’s No. 2 market.
Games aren’t rigged. They just aren’t. But people think they are rigged from time to time, and unsatisfying explanations for questionable calls made at key moments of a game that remains in doubt become circumstantial evidence for those who think the line has blurred between the NFL and WWE.