NFL shouldn’t try to objectively define “Hail Mary” for replay purposes

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The tangled web that Rich McKay is weaving when it comes to the decision to make pass interference generally subject to replay review but not subject to replay review in specific situations inadvertently has exposed that the NFL uses rules not on the books when officiating “Hail Mary” plays. That’s a real problem for the league, but one that apparently is baked firmly into the fibers of the officiating function.

A more recent problem that has yet to be addressed relates to the circumstances that constitute a Hail Mary for the purposes of turning off replay review. As previously explained, it’s simply not conducive to an objective definition based on field position, remaining time, and/or number of players in the end zone. Whatever parameters the league may set, smart coaches will find a way around them.

So here’s the solution. Because game officials apparently apply a know-it-when-you-see-it standard to applying the relaxed interference rules in real time, the game officials should determine the situations when a Hail Mary play has been called. It can happen before the play, with the officials telling the coaches and players that the Hail Mary rules are in effect. It can happen during the play, with the referee throwing his hand up as soon as the high, arcing pass is thrown, like the umpire does when invoking the infield fly rule in baseball. Or it can happen after, when one of the coaches tries to throw the red challenge flag and the referee says, “Sorry, coach, but that was a Hail Mary.”

Whatever the approach (and all three of them could be used), the situation calls for something subjective not objective, because coaches will manipulate their way around any and all objective tests.

Then there’s the lingering question as to why replay review shouldn’t be available for Hail Mary plays? If, as McKay explains it, a separate set of not-in-the-rulebook rules applies to pass interference in Hail Mary settings, wouldn’t senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron be capable of applying that same unwritten standard when reviewing the ruling on the field?

“We tell the officials, make sure you see if anybody gets pulled down or anybody gets dragged down, that is pass interference,” McKay recently said.

So what if a player gets pulled down or dragged down and the officials miss it? Shouldn’t Riveron get a chance to fix it? Wasn’t that the whole purpose of changing the rules after the Rams-Saints debacle?

This entire episode is exposing things about officiating that probably were better left unexposed. And they could leave the NFL with the same kind of blind spot that left the league with an unacceptable result that couldn’t be fixed.

42 responses to “NFL shouldn’t try to objectively define “Hail Mary” for replay purposes

  1. You want an even simpler solution? Define a hail mary as only being such in the last 45 seconds of a game. Any other time, a long end zone pass is just that, and officiated as any other pass.

  2. The NFL should modify their shield with the motto, “The harder we try, the harder we fall”. Instant replay has ruined every sport it’s been implemented into. All or nothing, already!!!!!!

  3. They clearly KNOW they’re opening a huge can of worms and that they’re going to likely cause more controversies than they solve with these new rules but since they can’t bring themselves to admit it’s a bad idea they’re going to just try and mitigate it by making exceptions for plays that would most likely be game-deciding. Totally backwards way of handling it, but that’s how the NFL rolls.

  4. And this is why the whole “replay review” idea is stupid to begin with, as you guys tried to ignore or brush off the “unintended consequences”.

    Now the NFL has no choice but write MORE rules just to satisfy the monday morning quarterback mob. And with more rules, you’ll have more people whining why their team didn’t get a call.

  5. The NFL needs to get its act together and make PI a 15 yard maximum penalty like in college. Then all these hypotheticals aren’t nearly as impactful to the outcomes.

    As it stands now, you could pick up a QB three seconds after he throws a pass and slam him on his head, and it’s a 15 yard penalty. But if you maybe graze a guy downfield when he’s trying to make a catch he may or may not have made, it’s a 40+ yard penalty. Insane if you think about it.

  6. “This entire episode is exposing things about officiating that probably were better left unexposed.”

    Gonna have to respectfully disagree with you there. These “things” have been obvious for years. The one thing that has changed is McKay has now publicly acknowledged it. But we already knew it was true.

    Another thing that is obvious is the simple solution is never implemented. The fact that the two officials who clearly saw the PI but ignored it is glossed over and never talked about, so it fades from the public consciousness and instead the league further obfuscates the rules and makes the situation worse, guaranteeing more controversy under the guise of trying to eliminate it. Did the two officials do as instructed, i.e., did they follow NFL policy for that game? Why is there no accountability?

  7. “exposed that the NFL uses rules not on the books when officiating “Hail Mary” plays.”
    ——————————-

    HE NEVER SAID THAT. All Mckay said was that the Hail Mary play will have multiple players from both teams is a small space all fighting to get to the ball.

    All players have always been allowed to try to catch the ball or swat it away. At no point did McKay said it wasn’t pass interference to prevent another player from catching, so it’s not like they’re letting the defense tackle the five receivers before the ball gets there.

  8. If a jump ball situation occurs then 1-1 pushes shoves should be allowed- both people have the right to the ball. At no time can a receiver/defender shield -block or pick another player. Two players may not push-shove- contact another player.

  9. An under-thrown fade – a scramble-heave 50-50 are the same as a under-thrown Hail Mary. Once a ball is under thrown all 1-1 pass interference penalties should be waived, both offense and defense. Picks, shields, blocks, 2 on 1 contact should still be PI. Hail Marys thrown in stride should have normal PI rules. Common Sense to me?

  10. Oh God!… We went from not knowing exactly what a “catch” is to now not knowing what “pass interference” is. Next they’re going to re-define when a “tackle” is not a tackle…what a “block” is…and on & on.

  11. The problem has never been the hail mary. The problem is the pass interference rule period. It’s too egregious of a penalty for the defense. Offenses many times just chuck it up hoping for a referee blown call in order to win the game. I never understood why the NFL doesn’t fix it.

  12. Please don’t make a Hail Mary any different than any other football play.

    If there is legit pass interference on a Hail Mary than call it. If there is incidental contact because all the players are going for the ball, then don’t. If someone is holding someone down from jumping then it should be called and they never call it.

  13. With anything subjective fans will cry bitter tears both when the refs call a play a hail mary and when they don’t

    Anything over 35 yards on last play of game or something along those lines would be fine

  14. chickensalad43 says:
    June 3, 2019 at 10:56 am
    The NFL needs to get its act together and make PI a 15 yard maximum penalty like in college. Then all these hypotheticals aren’t nearly as impactful to the outcomes.

    As it stands now, you could pick up a QB three seconds after he throws a pass and slam him on his head, and it’s a 15 yard penalty. But if you maybe graze a guy downfield when he’s trying to make a catch he may or may not have made, it’s a 40+ yard penalty. Insane if you think about it.

    ————-

    I wouldn’t mind if they tried a 15 yard penalty. It would give the Secondary an advantage in some circumstances, but put them at a disadvantage on others.

  15. “The NFL needs to get its act together and make PI a 15 yard maximum penalty like in college. Then all these hypotheticals aren’t nearly as impactful to the outcomes.”
    ———————————
    That would be the end of passes over 15 yards. DBs would be coached to simply tackle/grab any receiver beyond 15 yards that was likely to be targeted by a pass. Coaches would run 5 receiver deep routes and chuck the ball, knowing there would be PI called on every play.

    ex: Start on your own 20. Six penalties later, you are on the other 25. Next play, to the one yardline by penalty in the end zone. The games would really suck.

  16. BayAreaBrownsBacker says: “Offenses many times just chuck it up hoping for a referee blown call in order to win the game. I never understood why the NFL doesn’t fix it.”
    ———————-

    There were 278 Defensive Pass Interference calls on 17,671 pass attempts last year. That’s only 1.57% of ALL pass plays or in other words, 1 DPI for every 64 pass attempts.

    Pretty sure the offense is better off calling plays that have better than 1.57% chance of success…

  17. I feel like there is some overthinking going on here. It’s an open secret that hail marys are officiated differently (this is only news to some viewers who haven’t been paying attention up to this point). With that understanding in mind, on the part of refs and coaches alike, I anticipate that both groups will intuitively know which plays are and are not “hail marys” and how those plays will be evaluated. Maybe it would be better if all plays were officiated equally, but I don’t think too many “hail mary” situations are going to cause controversy.

  18. “Define a hail mary as only being such in the last 45 seconds of a game”

    Nope that’s terrible and will ruin the end of many games. Should only be on the last play of the game as a last gasp chance to win.

    There are often as many as 7 or 8 plays in that last 45 seconds, and giving the D carte blanche for that length of time will mean many last drives will not have any chance of success.

  19. Here’s a novel concept: treat all pass plays the same and call interference when it’s interference.

    It doesn’t make sense to change things based on the type of play.

    Like, what would you think if the NBA said: Sorry, that foul isn’t a foul anymore the shooter was shooting a 3 pointer not a 2?

    Sorry, that’s not a strike anymore. There’s a runner on 3rd, 2 outs, past the 7th inning in August during a day game. Try again tomorrow.

  20. Exactly. It could be 2nd down and it might look like a “Hail Mary” in the 2nd qtr.

    All you’d have to do is maul every offensive player once the ball is thrown. A very, very stupid idea.

  21. I think Rich McKay has had way too much influence over football for too long and based on what? The fact that he is someone’s Son. This guy is damaging the sport and has an influential role based on Daddy’s legacy.

  22. This rule change is going to prove to be a complete disaster. All because of one call in a playoff game. They are going to get complaints 10 fold next year because they are fixing something that is unfix-able.

  23. If the NFL didn’t flub that Calvin Johnson TD from 10 years ago, and ridiculously stand by it after the fact via interpretation of a rule, none of this train wreck with the rulebook would have ensued.

    #overofficious-jerks

  24. This does NOT make sense. The game should be called consistently the whole way. I think it should be reviewable BOTH ways…offensive and defensive PI. As a Packers fan, I remember the Fail Mary (we got jobbed), but another Hail Mary where we committed the infraction (non call).

    Refs…just be consistent!

  25. Go back to the way it was – all this talk is completely ridiculous.

    Let’s see – no coach challenges in the last 2 minutes. All replay is initiated by the refs. Except pass interference review. In this case it may not be initiated by the refs. It may only be initiated by coach challenge. Except for Hail Mary plays. In this case no review is possible ever.

    Sure, go ahead and write that into the rulebook. It reads beautifully and makes perfect sense.

  26. I think it’s safe to say that there is pass interference on every Hail Mary play, with the ball thrown up there for grabs in the end zone. It sounds to me that they’re going to need to put specific parameters on when different rules apply from a regular pass play, or havoc will ensue.

  27. 2 quarterbacks (Russell Wilson and Joe Flecko) are known to throw a lot of high arcing passes, so it would be tough to decide whether they are throwing a Hail Mary or not, especially if 2 or more receivers are in the same area.

  28. “A hail mary is a jump ball thrown as time expires. How does anyone not know this?”

    Not necesssarily just when time expires. It could come with several seconds left on the clock on a 4th down play. If pass interference is called in the end zone, the offense would get the ball at the 1-yard line and still have one or more shots at the end zone.

  29. Rules are rules…lots of times players get confined into a small area…penalties don’t change!
    Near the line, in the endzone…rules are rules! Enforce them!!!

  30. Can we just scrap this whole thing? I honestly see nothing wrong with the NFL coming out and saying “maybe we rushed into this whole PI penalty thing… we’re going to step back and regroup.”

    I know the NFL worry that people will laugh at them but (a) we’re already laughing at them and (b) in the long run, they will gain some PR points for not taking a bad idea and making it worse.

  31. akira1971 says:

    There were 278 Defensive Pass Interference calls on 17,671 pass attempts last year. That’s only 1.57% of ALL pass plays or in other words, 1 DPI for every 64 pass attempts.

    Pretty sure the offense is better off calling plays that have better than 1.57% chance of success…
    ————————————————————————————

    You are making an assumption that all pass plays are equal. They are not. 278 defensive pass interference calls is a HUGE number considering there are only 256 games in an entire NFL season. That is > than 1 per game! Greater than 75% of games are decided by 3 points or less, one bad call can change the outcome.

  32. The Eagles would have lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots if the new PI rule was in effect. It would have been called on Brady’s last Hail Mary into the end zone. The Eagles defenders had Gronkowski’s arms pinned to his side and the pass fell incomplete. Under the new rules, the Patriots would have gotten the ball at the 1-yard line with one play to punch it over. Does anyone want to bet against the Patriots in that situation?

  33. steves11 says:
    June 3, 2019 at 8:01 pm
    The Eagles would have lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots if the new PI rule was in effect. It would have been called on Brady’s last Hail Mary into the end zone. The Eagles defenders had Gronkowski’s arms pinned to his side and the pass fell incomplete. Under the new rules, the Patriots would have gotten the ball at the 1-yard line with one play to punch it over. Does anyone want to bet against the Patriots in that situation?
    ————————————-

    You can “coulda, shoulda, woulda” that game (or any game, really) a million different ways for both teams. Even if you are right, that play in itself isn’t more or less important than any number of crucial plays. It just happened to be the last one.

  34. What we can call it a hail mary still?

    I mean if we can’t call team owners, owners then shouldn’t this play be called inclusive all-faith prayer?

    Oh wait, I’m jumping the gun, that’s the scheduled 2020 season virtue signal.

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