Botched call shows why NFL needs to make pass interference reviewable


Each week, the Washington Post's Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with "First and 10," a dissection of the league's most important developments from a weekend of action.

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First: Missed call costs Falcons dearly

This NFL season has not been overflowing with officiating controversies like last season was. So far, there hasn't even been that much confusion over what is and what isn't a legal catch.

But a missed pass interference call might have determined the outcome of Sunday's meeting in Seattle between two top NFC contenders.

The Atlanta Falcons trailed the Seahawks, 26-24, with just more than a minute and a half remaining when quarterback Matt Ryan launched a deep pass toward wide receiver Julio Jones in the middle of the field.

Jones was double-teamed, and one of the Seattle defenders was cornerback Richard Sherman. But Jones can make the astounding look relatively routine, and he had a very good chance to make a leaping catch of Ryan's pass around the Seattle 35-yard line. The Falcons would have been well positioned for a game-winning field goal.

The problem is, Sherman grabbed Jones's right arm as Jones jumped. Jones was unable to make a one-handed, leaping catch with his left hand, and Ryan's pass fell to the turf incomplete. No flag was thrown, and the sideline protests of Falcons Coach Dan Quinn on the sideline were to no avail. It was a fourth-down play. So the Seahawks took possession of the football and ran out the clock.

"No question that was PI," Mike Pereira, the NFL's former vice president of officiating who now is a rules analyst for Fox, wrote on Twitter. "They're all tough, but you have to make that call."

The NFL's competition committee always has been against making judgment calls such as pass interference or holding subject to instant replay review. But isn't the real purpose of instant replay to fix an obviously erroneous call that changes the outcome of a game? That's what happened here. Sherman interfered with Jones. The Falcons had a very good chance to win an extremely meaningful game taken from them.

The stakes are particularly high on pass interference calls. This was a 40-yard penalty if it had been called. There was a 66-yard pass interference penalty called against the Detroit Lions this season in a loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Perhaps the NFL should consider doing something further to increase the chances that such huge-yardage calls are correct. It should at least be up for discussion next offseason.

. . . AND TEN

1. Eagles' offensive line woes: The Philadelphia Eagles did not manage a touchdown by their offense in Sunday's 27-20 defeat at Washington, their second straight loss following a 3-0 beginning to the season.

They also have a major issue on their offensive line with right tackle Lane Johnson suspended.

Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai started at the spot Sunday and struggled mightily. The Redskins took advantage of him repeatedly en route to sacking Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz five times.

Eagles Coach Doug Pederson said after the game he'd given no thought to making an in-game lineup change. Pederson gave no immediate indication that he'll go in another direction at the position. But it clearly is something that the Eagles will have to address if they're going to get back to their early-season winning ways.

2. Davis' penalty: Vernon Davis, the Redskins' veteran tight end, was penalized for a touchdown celebration Sunday in which he flipped the football over the goal post with a basketball jump-shot motion.

The penalty had a significant impact on the game. The Redskins were backed up 15 yards on the subsequent kickoff, which the Eagles' Wendell Smallwood returned for a touchdown. It was one of two second-quarter touchdowns on returns for Philadelphia. The Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins scored on an interception return.

The penalty on Davis technically was correct. Using the football as a celebratory prop is illegal. And yes, players should know that the league clearly is cracking down this season on celebrations as part of its sportsmanship push, which also includes the automatic ejection rule for any player penalized twice in the same game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct calls.

But things have gone a bit overboard. Davis's celebration was quick. It was modest. It didn't taunt anyone or show up an opponent. That's one that should be allowed to happen.

3. A kickoff-return TD: Smallwood's 86-yard touchdown was the first scored league-wide this season on a kickoff return.

That is significant, not only because it is unusually late in the season for that to happen but also because of the circumstances surrounding kickoff returns.

So many teams are using the strategy of utilizing short kickoffs and then trying to tackle the returner shy of the 25-yard line. That has thwarted the NFL's attempt to reduce the portion of kickoffs being returned with its new rule of placing the football at the 25-yard line, rather than at the 20, on a touchback on a kickoff. The rule is designed to encourage a returner who catches the football in the end zone to remain there.

Kicking teams have not suffered the consequences of their approach of encouraging kickoff returns, given the lack until now of a kickoff-return touchdown. If a few more kickoffs are returned for touchdowns, that just might lead kicking teams to boom the ball well into the end zone and settle for touchbacks. And that's precisely what the NFL wants.

4. Prescott's excellence: There's simply no way that the Dallas Cowboys should be contemplating a quarterback switch from rookie Dak Prescott to the healing Tony Romo any time soon.

Prescott threw three touchdown passes Sunday to lead the Cowboys to a 30-16 triumph at Green Bay, even though he finally threw his first NFL interception.

But the Cowboys have five straight wins and a 5-1 record entering their bye week. They have established themselves as a top NFC contender with Prescott as their quarterback.

Why do anything to risk disrupting the very good thing they have going?

5. Gronk's production: Rob Gronkowski is back.

The tight end was plagued by a hamstring injury in the season's early going. He also suffered, when he did play, from the absence of suspended quarterback Tom Brady from the New England Patriots' offense.

But Brady is now two games into his return, and Gronkowski is two games into his revival. He had seven catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 35-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. That gives Gronkowski 12 catches for 271 yards in the last two games. He had one catch for 11 yards this season prior to that.

This New England offense is very, very good with Brady back in charge and Gronkowski back to being himself.

6. Bengals' struggles: The Bengals' record dropped to 2-4 with the loss in Foxborough, Mass.

Cincinnati has been to the playoffs in five straight seasons and six of the past seven. That streak clearly is in jeopardy. The Bengals have not managed a postseason triumph during that stretch, but at least they have been in the playoffs on a consistent basis.

The one reason for optimism might be that the Bengals' losses have come to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Cowboys and Patriots. The schedule is not nearly as rugged the rest of the way, so perhaps Cincinnati still can salvage its season.

7. Ravens' (lack of) offense: The offensive-coordinator switch from Marc Trestman to Marty Mornhinweg failed to get the Baltimore Ravens back into the win column. They lost to the New York Giants, 27-23, Sunday at the Meadowlands in the first game since Coach John Harbaugh made the move.

There were some promising signs Sunday. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 307 yards. Tailback Terrance West ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens had a chance to win at the end. But they're 0-3 since a 3-0 start to the season. And if things don't turn around soon, the focus likely will shift to Flacco's play.

8. Vegas Raiders? A prospective relocation by the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas moved one step closer to becoming a reality Friday when the Nevada legislature narrowly approved a proposal to use $750 million in public funds to build a 65,000-seat, $1.9 billion domed stadium in Vegas. The deal is expected to be signed Monday by the state's Republican governor, Brian Sandoval.

Raiders owner Mark Davis has said the team would play in Oakland in the 2017 and 2018 seasons while the new stadium in Vegas would be under construction.

In the bigger picture, however, little has changed with the stadium developments in Las Vegas.

This always has been about-and remains about-whether the NFL owners will ratify such a move. The relocation would have to be approved by 24 of the 32 owners.

The owners' regularly scheduled fall meeting takes place Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston. There undoubtedly will be plenty of talk there this week about the Raiders' situation. But things are unlikely to play out for good until at least January. The Raiders must formally apply after the season for relocation, at which point the owners will take up the matter in earnest.

As the owners' deliberations over Los Angeles last year and early this year demonstrated, the real maneuvering takes place at the last minute. The owners had decades to plot the NFL's return to L.A. They studied the competing stadium bids by the Rams in Inglewood, Calif., and by the Raiders and San Diego Chargers in Carson for months. But it wasn't until the final hours of the process that the owners decided on Inglewood, ignoring a recommendation for Carson made by their own L.A. committee.

So it probably will go with the Raiders and Vegas. Much will be said this week. Much maneuvering will be done in the coming weeks and months. But what really matters probably won't happen until the very final stages of the deliberations, when the owners will have to decide if they're comfortable allowing another team to leave another city and whether they're going to overlook any reservations about putting a franchise in the nation's gambling capital.

That outcome could come in conjunction with a decision on whether the Chargers will leave San Diego and join the Rams in Los Angeles, as they have an option to do. In that situation, much depends on whether public financing for a new stadium in San Diego is approved next month. The L.A. option would pass to the Raiders if it's declined by the Chargers.

9. TV ratings: There has been much analysis of the drop in television ratings for NFL games this season, and rightfully so.

The NFL's emergence as the country's most prosperous and popular sports league has been tied in large part to its TV-viewership success. Attempting to determine why ratings have declined this season could provide key indicators about the sport's ability to continue to make significant gains in its annual revenues.

But while analyzing the ratings dip, it is important to remember that the NFL remains pretty much the best thing going on TV.

As Brian McCarthy, the NFL's vice president of communications, wrote Friday on Twitter, four of the five most-watched shows on television for the week of Oct. 3-9 were NFL games, behind the presidential debate at No. 1.

10. Kubiak's return: Coach Gary Kubiak is scheduled to rejoin the Broncos on Monday. He was away from the team last week after being diagnosed with a complex migraine condition, and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis coached the team in Thursday night's loss to the Chargers in San Diego.

Kubiak returns with the defending Super Bowl champions facing a mini-crisis. The Broncos have lost two straight games following a 4-0 start. Their quarterback situation also has become an issue.

The Broncos lost at home to the Falcons with rookie Paxton Lynch filling in for the injured Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Siemian returned to the lineup last week. But he had stretches in the San Diego game in which he looked like just what he is, a second-year pro who was a seventh-round draft choice.

Kubiak did a brilliant job last season in keeping a tricky quarterback situation, involving Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, from undermining the efforts of a defense that ultimately carried the team to a Super Bowl victory. Siemian has had some positive moments this season, and Kubiak must help his young quarterback to make the offense good enough again to do its relatively modest part.


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