Remember not long ago when no one knew what a catch was? The debate about what pass interference is (or isn’t) is about to begin.
Although NFL referees Tony Corrente and Ron Torbert said nothing changes for officials with pass interference now reviewable, it could have a huge impact on the game as Mike Florio addressed this morning. Al Riveron will determine that.
The NFL’s senior vice president of officiating cited two plays that he would have overturned on replay: A non-call on Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore for pass interference on Rams receiver Brandin Cooks in Super Bowl LIII and a non-call on Chargers receiver Mike Williams for pushing off on Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller, who was called for defensive pass interference on the play.
Riveron said the only feedback he has gotten from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or the Competition Committee since is “let’s get it right.”
Officials held their annual clinic in Dallas this weekend, and the media was allowed into the opening sessions when Riveron went through rules changes for 2019, using video examples. He saved pass interference for last.
“Remember the magic words and live by them,” Riveron told officials about pass interference. “Clear and obvious. Visual. Clear and obvious. Visual. Significantly hinders. Remember those words, and then when we live by those words, we will succeed. Clear and obvious, that’s the standard for replay. This is part of the replay rule, and that’s the standard. Clear and obvious. Visual evidence. Significantly hinders.”
Riveron first showed several examples of plays that might or might not have been called interference on the field. Most of the plays he showed were debatable, with Riveron saying whatever was called on the field would stand.
He showed three different angles of a play from the Falcons-Bengals game, and said, “It’s not what we think. It’s not what our gut tells us. It’s what we can see clear and obvious. But again, that has nothing to do with the way we’re officiating on the field. That has not changed at all — at all. . . .Do I think it’s a foul? Yes. Can I prove it? No. Based on that shot, we will not change the ruling on the field. Does it smell? Does it look funny? Yes, it does. Again, clear and obvious.”
He showed a play involving 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon against Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin and another play that had Lions cornerback Teez Tabor covering Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph and said whatever was called on the field would stand.
Riveron did not show the infamous play from the NFC Championship Game that prompted owners to follow the wishes of coaches and vote in instant replay for pass interference for 2019. Riveron, though, did show the two controversial plays he cited as examples of plays he would penalize from New York.
He said Gilmore “grabs his hand and does not allow [Cooks] to get his hand up. That is a foul. So we would put one down on this. He significantly hinders the opponent’s opportunity to make a play on the ball. That is a foul.”
Riveron also confirmed he would have penalized Williams for pushing off on Fuller, creating offsetting penalties and a replayed down. Instead of having the ball at the 1-yard line, the Chargers would have had another play from the 10 with eight seconds remaining.
“We have a flag on the ground for defensive pass interference,” Riveron said. “. . .No. 1, we leave the flag on the ground. We do not have clear and obvious evidence that it’s not DPI. That contact right there, that’s not clear and obvious that it’s not DPI. Then, additionally, we put a flag on the ground for OPI, which makes this an offset. So again, PI becomes reviewable aspect of the play. Remember this play.”
Remember this: It is not what is clear and obvious to anyone except Riveron. He now is the judge on any reviewed interference play, and that surely will make for some debated rulings during the season.