In the Hall of Fame game and in 15 of the Week One preseason games, none of the replay officials called for a replay review of any pass interference call or non-call. In the Bengals-Chiefs game on Saturday night, the replay official exercised that power. Twice.
One of those decisions highlighted a key question regarding replay review of pass interference calls and non-calls: Will the ruling from NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron be influenced by the outcome of the play?
With 53 seconds left in the first half and the Chiefs on the Cincinnati 17, quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw a third-down pass in the direction of receiver Byron Pringle on the right side of the end zone. Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips appeared to initiate contact with Pringle while the ball was in the air. But Pringle commited a much more obvious infraction, blatantly shoving Phillips in the head to gain separation.
Phillips recovered from the push, batting the ball away for an incompletion, forcing a fourth down and a looming 35-yard field-goal attempt for the Chiefs.
Replay official Darryl Lewis initiated a review of potential offensive pass interference. And the review took a long time, slamming the brakes on the game action while Riveron sorted everything out in New York.
Riveron ultimately decided to let the ruling on the field stand, with no call of offensive pass interference, defensive pass interference, or offseting fouls — and with no explanation provided by referee Craig Wrolstad regarding the basis for the decision.
It’s hard not to wonder whether Riveron considered the fact that Pringle’s blatant shove of Phillips didn’t help Pringle make the catch. If Pringle had caught the ball, would Riveron has called OPI? Probably. If Phillips had intercepted the pass, would Riveron have determined that Phillips committed interference? Or would Riveron have decided that both players had committed fouls, wiping out the play and giving the Chiefs a do-over?
In this specific case, the realistic options seemed to be: (1) call Pringle for OPI, marking off 10 yards and giving the Chiefs another third down (unless the Bengals declined the penalty); (2) call offsetting fouls, allowing the Chiefs another crack at the end zone on third down; or (3) do nothing, keeping the Chiefs at fourth down and leaving the field-goal try at 35 yards.
Riveron’s ultimate choice quite possibly reflects a consideration of what happened on the field, and what the impact of his decision on the game would have been. Really, how can Riveron not be expected to ponder the various permutations regarding the consequences of a call or non-call of offensive and/or defensive pass interference?
Right or wrong, the power to consider via replay review calls and non-calls of pass inteference gives Riveron a vague sort of Wapnerian power over the proceedings, allowing him to mete out football justice based not only on the visual evidence of a foul or no foul, but also on the impact of his decision on the broader circumstances of the game. On Saturday night, it appears that Riveron may have used this power in overlooking clear and obvious evidence of offensive pass interference, given that there may have been defensive pass interference and given that the offensive pass interference ultimately didn’t work.
Like it or not, these are the kinds of issues that naturally flow from the NFL’s decision to address the very specific and narrow problem from the Rams-Saints NFC Championship game with a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel. And these are the kinds of questions that will come into focus as more and more games are played under this new reality.