Being a spot foul, defensive pass interference can definitely save a drive for a struggling offense, or ruin a drive for a defense trying to save the game. On Sunday, Lions defensive back Nevin Lawson was penalized for defensive pass interference on Packers receiver Trevor Davis, a spot foul worth 66 yards, placing the ball at the 2-yard line. Back judge Jim Quirk threw the flag on Lawson, and Green Bay scored on the following play.
“Just seen the ball in the air, I didn’t even see him, to be honest. I was just focusing on the ball. He tripped, and that’s what they called,” Lawson said following the game.
ESPN.com is reporting that this penalty was the longest penalty enforced in 15 years.
On the play, Lawson grabbed the arm of Davis, and following that contact, the two players’ feet became tangled up, causing Davis to fall to the ground. Quirk initially signaled an incomplete pass (to give a definitive signal to kill the clock), then he reached for his flag. According to Rule 8-5-3(b):
Acts that are permissible by a player include, but are not limited to:
… (b) Inadvertent tangling of feet when both players are playing the ball or neither player is playing the ball.
Shortly after the play, NFL Football Operations tweeted out this response to the call, posting a generic video of the defensive pass interference rule. (Although the tweet refers to the first quarter, it was the first play of the second quarter, and was the only pass interference foul called in the game.)
— NFL Football Ops (@NFLFootballOps) September 25, 2016
According to Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com, the league apparently has found Lawson’s coverage was not a foul. Lawson stated that a Lions team official had informed him that there was an admission of an error from the officiating department on the play. Coach Jim Caldwell would not comment on discussions with the league office on that call.
This raises a question that has plagued the Competition Committee in the past: since defensive pass interference is so subjective, should it be reviewable by rule? This will definitely be an area to look at by the committee in the offseason, as this supposed error cost a team two-thirds of the field in field position. A proposal by the Baltimore Ravens at the 2016 owners meeting to make all plays reviewable was tabled, and later rejected. However, as a result of this play, there is a potential for a closer examination of the idea in the following year.
Another possibility to make defensive pass interference less destructive to defenses is to make it a yardage foul as opposed to a spot foul. In the NCAA, defensive pass interference is a 15-yard penalty. Senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, however, has stated that defenders would be rewarded if they choose to interfere on deep passes longer than the fifteen yard penalty.
With numerous long-yardage penalties for defensive pass interference in the last few years, the league may feel its time to change the rule on this foul. Although the interference is called incorrectly only a small percentage of the time, instituting replay might be the way to go in the NFL moving forward.
Image: Detroit Lions photo