The NFL has already retrained us, and not in a good way, on how to watch and react to an otherwise very entertaining game.
That’s the big-picture takeaway from the Eagles’ 34-27 victory over the Packers on Thursday (one that obviously did the Vikings a favor as it bumped previously undefeated Green Bay to 3-1, but also one that re-established that an Oct. 13 home game against Philadelphia will be a challenge).
I didn’t start watching live until the fourth quarter, so I’ll circle back to what were perhaps the most controversial calls that happened earlier in the game.
But here’s the part where I’ve already been retrained: The Packers were driving for what looked like an inevitable tying touchdown late. It was 2nd-and-goal from the Eagles’ 3 in the final minute. Aaron Rodgers threw a quick slant intended for Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Defensive back Craig James — who spent some time with the Vikings last season — broke on the ball and appeared to arrive a little early with Valdes-Scantling. The ball deflected into the air, where Nigel Bradham intercepted it to seal the game.
No flags. Game over … until I saw the replay and immediately thought: “Uh-oh. That sure might get overturned by replay.” Troy Aikman, working the Fox broadcast, wondered the same thing as the slow-motion replay showed James arriving a split-second early and certainly impacting Valdes-Scantling’s ability to make the catch.
To my surprise (shock?) the camera very soon cut to the Eagles taking a kneel-down snap. Not only was there no overturn, it wasn’t even reviewed (which would have originated from the booth since it was in the final two minutes).
Here’s the thing: I’m glad it wasn’t, and not for any competitive reasons. The idea of a bang-bang play like that getting overturned after officials watching it live let it go still doesn’t feel right to me — kind of like how baseball replays that overturn a call because a base runner’s foot popped off the bag by an inch bother me, too.
It certainly wasn’t as egregious as the Saints/Rams NFC title game play that set this whole pass interference replay mess in motion.
But the game-ending play was hardly the first or even most controversial pass interference-related play of the game.
Earlier in the game, both the Packers and Eagles separately challenged non-calls on what looked to be defensive pass interference. In both cases, it could be argued that the plays met the threshold for “clear and obvious” visual evidence to overturn and award a flag. Neither play was overturned. And again, I guess if they’re going to err on either side I’m glad it’s not on the side of overturning every bang-bang call.
The larger point, though, is how the new rule is already retraining us to react to an NFL game in a way that detracts from the flow, leads to more whining and puts officials under a microscope even more.
Allowing for review only leads to more outrage — and reinforces the idea that the only thing “clear and obvious” about reviewable pass interference is that it’s “clear and obvious” people have different ideas of what meets the threshold.
“I really don’t know what pass interference is anymore,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who also watched replay overturn an Eagles offensive pass interference penalty to allow a TD to stand. In reference to his failed challenge, LaFleur said, “It was clear and obvious to me, but I’m not the one making the decision.”
When you over-legislate a judgment call, you move out of “these things even out” territory into “we got hosed” territory quickly as a fan or coach. That’s not a particularly fun way to watch a game.