GREEN BAY – The confusion began with John Hussey’s open mike catching the referee asking the league office in New York, essentially, “What the heck’s going on?”
“Can you tell me why we’re stopping the game?” Hussey said after Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs with 1 minute, 8 seconds left in the second quarter of Sunday’s 21-16 loss at Lambeau Field.
Diggs clearly caught the ball. And he clearly crossed the goal line to presumably move the Vikings to within a touchdown of a Packers team that led 21-0 after 16 minutes.
But this is the NFL in 2019. Assume nothing. Delay jumping for joy or punching a wall. And put no points on the board until Alberto Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, checks to make sure there are no no-calls to be called.
When Hussey huddled in front of the replay monitor longer than usual, you knew Alberto had spotted an infraction.
“We saw clear and obvious visual evidence that No. 33 [Dalvin Cook] significantly hinders the opponent [safety Darnell Savage] while the ball is still in the air,” Riveron told this pool reporter after the game. “Therefore, we negate the score and call offensive pass interference here from New York and penalize them 10 yards.”
The Vikings settled for a field goal and a 21-10 deficit. Throw in Dan Bailey’s missed 47-yard field goal and a blocked point-after attempt from 48 yards — compliments of Stefon Diggs’ 15-yard personal foul for selfishly removing his helmet after a touchdown catch — and, well, the Vikings would have been leading with 5:10 left. And, who knows, Cousins probably doesn’t throw his second horribly forced interception of the day on first-and-goal from the 8.
Don’t blame Riveron. Cook did help clear a path when he blocked Savage while the ball was in the air.
It was offensive pass interference, one of three on the Vikings and four in the game. And the new rule, adopted on a one-year trial basis, is PI calls and no-calls are reviewable from the booth when there’s a turnover, a score or the game is in the final two minutes of a half.
If you’re grumpy about the call, blame the Saints for getting hosed out of a Super Bowl trip on the mother-of-all no calls in last year’s NFC title game.
Coaches, of course, have been complaining about offensive pass interference on the goal line for years. As Star Tribune sports columnist Patrick Reusse points out, nobody complained more bitterly and regularly about pick plays on the goal line than Vikings Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant.
Sunday, the league office and the game officials weren’t shy about calling OPIs. Besides Cook, Diggs and Adam Theilen both were flagged.
“I feel like it was a point of emphasis this game,” said Diggs, who had an animated conversation with field judge Allen Baynes coming off the field at halftime. “I feel like they went the extra mile trying to emphasize it as a whole, so we’ve just got to watch the tape and figure out what’s what.
“I don’t know the call. I haven’t seen it on tape. I asked him at halftime. He said, ‘You can’t close [your] fist, use your shoulder. You can’t extend at all.’”
After the game, coach Mike Zimmer still wasn’t clear what happened on the negated touchdown. He said it was his understanding that it wasn’t on Cook but rather “the second guy that came through.”
But New York made it clear that it definitely was Cook. And that was news to Cook in the locker room after the game.
“That was the play call, we got out and I don’t know [what happened],” he said. “I can’t tell you. I didn’t even know it was on me, to be real. So I can’t respond. I can’t describe it.”
Welcome to the NFL, 2019. If you think you’ve gotten away with pass interference, just remember. Alberto is watching your every move from New York.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraignfl. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org