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Faceguarding call lead to bizarre pass-interference flag pickup



During the fourth quarter, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a third-down pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew, and there was a flag for pass interference on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens. Referee Pete Morelli announced the penalty, but then picked up the flag. The television broadcast did not carry the second announcement, but all that could be heard in the background was Morelli saying, “There is no foul on the play” followed by something else indiscernible. The timing was incredibly strange, as the announcement for the penalty had already been made and subsequently rescinded.

After the game, Morelli said that head linesman Jerry Bergman offered that it was faceguarding, which is not a foul in the NFL, and that there was minimal contact. Back judge Lee Dyer accepted that opinion from the second angle and picked up his own flag.

Morelli can only facilitate the conference; he cannot interject his opinion in the conference (except if there is an objective rule misapplication), because he has responsibility for the quarterback, and is not watching the flight of the ball. “I’m a hundred miles away,” Morelli said when a pool reporter asked what he had seen.

“The better view was from the head linesman.”

Unfortunately, it can easily be pinned as turning point in the game, as the Lions punted, and the Cowboys scored a go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing 11-play, 54-yard drive that consumed the next 5½ minutes.

Hitchens told reporters after the game, “No media for me today, guys,” according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.

Hitchens clearly contacted the receiver, restraining Pettigrew’s arm. Earlier in the play, Hitchens also committed a slight jersey tug, which amounts to an uncalled defensive holding penalty. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant also came off the bench and was complaining to the officials; he could have been flagged for not staying in the bench area, although it was, arguably, a substitution period, even though he did not have his helmet.

Pool report

Q: Can you talk about the decision to overturn the call and why you overturned the call?

Morelli: The back judge threw his flag for defensive pass interference. We got other information from another official from a different angle that thought the contact was minimal and didn’t warrant pass interference. He thought it was faceguarding.

Q: Which official?

Morelli: The head linesman.

Q: What did you see?

Morelli: It’s not my responsibility. I’m a hundred miles away.

Q: Faceguarding is not a foul?

Morelli: Faceguarding is not a foul. It is a penalty in college, but not in professional football.

Q: What is the process you go through after you announce the call? Should you have waited before you announced the call?

Morelli: Probably, yes. The information came and then the officials got together a little bit later, after the first information was given to me. It would have probably been smoother if we got together.

Q: Do you remember this type of play happening before?

Morelli: No, not particularly.

Q: So, one more time, on who the person was that had a better view?

Morelli: The better view was from the head linesman.


Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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