Referees have one of the hardest jobs in all of sports. But, in some circumstances, even the most patient fan can’t help but blame the officials. One of those moments happened on Sunday when the Houston Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins seemed to be on the receiving end of some pass interference. No one called a penalty, however, and the call stood after a review.
After the game, however, Hopkins circled back to the incident. Taking to Twitter, the receiver called for a drastic change to the NFL’s current pass interference review policy.
Clear pass interference on DeAndre Hopkins
Sunday’s matinee match-up between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans was supposed to showcase two of the NFL’s exciting, young quarterbacks. While the game turned into a blowout, we did get some drama in the opening frame.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson uncorked a deep ball towards DeAndre Hopkins. The receiver seemed to have cornerback Marlon Humphrey dead to rights, but the Ravens’ defender had other ideas. He grabbed onto Hopkins before the ball arrived, and the pass fell incomplete. Everyone expected a flag for pass interference, but nothing came.
Since a penalty would have placed the ball at the one-yard line, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien challenged the call. Despite everyone in the broadcast booth thinking that the play was illegal, the NFL disagreed. After review, the call on the field stood.
“I don’t know,” O’Brien simply said after the game. “I have no idea what pass interference is anymore. No idea.”
DeAndre Hopkins calls for change
Bill O’Brien wasn’t the only Texan to speak out about the non-call. Quarterback DeShaun Watson told reporters that “everyone saw” his receiver being wrapped up, but insisted that the team had to move on.
DeAndre Hopkins, however, made a more impassioned plea on social media. The receiver retweeted a series of photos, which showed the play in question, adding the comment, “As a leader in the NFL, we need someone new in New York deciding calls.”
Given that the man reviewing pass interference calls is Al Riveron, the league’s vice president of officiating, it seems unlikely that Hopkins’ desired change will happen anytime soon. When push comes to shove, however, the real issue lies in the wording of the pass interference rule.
Even Bill Belichick doesn’t understand pass interference
Following a blatantly blown pass interference call last season, the NFL gave head coaches the ability to challenge potentially infractions. While the idea sounded good in practice, it hasn’t worked out in reality.
The issue stems from the fact that the NFL said that an error needs to be “clear and obvious” to be overturned. While this makes sense in a vacuum—you don’t want plays being reversed because of minimal contact magnified by a slow-motion replay—it has created an unrealistic standard. Even if common sense tells you that interference occurred on a play, trying to define what is and is not obvious veers into the absurd. On Sunday afternoon, for example, it’s impossible to know what the on-field officials saw. Did someone have a bad view of the play? Did they think the contact wasn’t significant enough to affect Hopkins’ ability to catch the ball? We can’t know those answers, but the NFL is basing reviews around them.
While no one wants to see every play of an NFL game relitigated through challenges and instant replays, there has to be a middle ground. Right now, no one—including fans, players, and legendary coaches like Bill Belichick—don’t know how pass interference will be called, both on the field and in the replay booth. Things need to be simplified and clarified, or we’re going to have another decade of debating what is and is not a catch.