Questionable calls in preseason games usually go unnoticed outside of the limited areas where the game is televised, but a call from the Cincinnati-Washington game Thursday night has some fans up in arms. Washington receiver Kelvin Harmon was flagged for offensive pass interference on a play early in the fourth quarter, and when coach Jay Gruden challenged the pass interference call, doing so as permitted under this year’s blockbuster rule change, the ruling on the field stood. On the play, what was shown in the television broadcast, Harmon went up for the ball, reaching over a Cincinnati defender, and could not make the catch. This act alone does not constitute pass interference, so the flag and the subsequent “stands” in replay perplexed many, including former quarterback and Washington preseason color commentator Joe Theismann.
In actuality, when looking at the play, the official is pulling his flag out from his belt prior to the reaching contact that everyone saw in the broadcast. This official was field judge Frank Steratore, a member of the Officiating Development Program. This would suggest that the contact occurred earlier in the play and was potentially hidden in the broadcast. This suggestion was confirmed when senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron addressed the play through the NFL Officiating Twitter page. The flag was thrown for contact that Harmon initiated earlier in the play, for a push-off at the 50-yard line. As a result, since there was no footage available at the time for referee Shawn Hochuli, Riveron, and the rest of Art McNally Gameday Central to see the contact that warranted the flag.
When games are covered by a major network, there are usually nine camera angles that feed directly into the NFL’s replay system, and the replay official can view each angle without any intervention from the network. They can also communicate with the TV truck if an additional aspect might be seen from an additional available angle. However, in the preseason, since most games are covered by a team’s local network, there may be some logistical barriers to allow it to work exactly like a regular season game.
Whether or not the call was correct on the field, it is necessary to debunk the theories that are coming with this controversy. In essence, the officials on the field can see more than television cameras sometimes, after all.
Pool report transcript
The following transcript is with senior VP of officiating Al Riveron, interviewed by Rhiannon Walker of The Athletic DC.
Q: Can you walk me through what exactly was the reason for the offensive pass interference call on Kelvin Harmon? What constituted the pass interference there?
[Editor’s note: The question was about a pass interference penalty that was assessed in replay in the fourth quarter (5:42) on a Cincinnati challenge. However, the answer is clearly referring to the Washington challenge to attempt to reverse pass interference, also on Harmon, earlier in the fourth quarter (13:31). Walker stated that she was limited to asking questions about only one play.]
Riveron: Well, we’re not going to talk about what constituted it, because what happens here is the ruling on the field was offensive pass interference. And remember in replay, we start with the premise that the call on the field is correct. And unless we have clear and obvious visual evidence to overturn the ruling on the field, we will not do that. In this situation, there was not clear and obvious visual evidence to overturn it, so we let the ruling on the field stand.
Q: What exactly did you all see to call the pass interference? What constituted pass interference on that particular play?
Riveron: So in this situation [the Cincinnati challenge], the ruling on the field was that the offensive player comes up with a reception. That’s your ruling on the field. We look at the ruling on the field, and then the defense challenges that there was offensive pass interference. We look at the play, we look at all the TV angles, and we ruled that the offensive player significantly hindered the defensive player in his attempt to get to the football. Therefore, we put a flag on the ground for offensive pass interference.
Q: How did you guys determine that the offensive player hindered the defensive player on that play?
Riveron: There was clear and obvious visual evidence that he pulls him to the ground and significantly hinders him. There’s clear and obvious evidence that he pulls him back, and he significantly hinders the opponent’s opportunity to make a play on the football.