The NFL has benefited from multiple exciting games this season, several of which have happened in prime time. The NFL also has benefited from the fact that Sunday’s game between the Chargers and Chiefs didn’t unfold under the lights.
As noted by former NFL referee and Sunday Night Football rules analyst Terry McAulay, the Hail Mary attempt by Kansas City resulted in multiple instances of uncalled pass interference. Tight end Travis Kelce was wiped out. A bear hug applied to receiver Tyreek Hill kept him from having a shot at making the catch.
Tony Romo of CBS downplayed the situation. “Everyone getting tackled,” he said over the replay, laughing. “They don’t even call these. The reality is you almost can’t.”
You can. And, when appropriate, it’s called.
The fact that the game landed in the cluster of 1:00 p.m. ET kickoffs allowed the NFL to avoid the kind of controversy that would have emerged if, say, it had happened on a Thursday night, Sunday night, or a Monday night. Indeed, Fail Mary of 2012 happened on a Monday night. In that situation, Seahawks receiver Golden Tate blatantly shoved a Packers defensive back before catching the game-winning touchdown pass. Almost immediately, the league ended the lockout of the game officials.
This would have been — and perhaps still should be — Fail Mary 2. An uncalled instance of clear and obvious pass interference that decided a game. Or, more accurately, that prevented the Chiefs from having an untimed down from the one yard line.
In 2019, the league adopted replay review for offensive and defensive pass interference. That system almost certainly would have (or at least should have) drawn a flag, even with the league applying a looser definition of interference in a know-it-when-you-see-it Hail Mary situation. A booth umpire or sky judge could have, should have, and maybe would have communicated to the officials on the field and pointed out the blunder.
Instead, nothing. Crickets. It would have been a plague of locusts, however, if it had happened last night on NBC or tonight on ESPN.
And that’s yet another reason for the NFL to come up with an effective way to fix glaring errors. Merely hoping that the errors aren’t sufficiently glaring is no way to do business.