Dead horse? Wait, there could be a pulse

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
4:10
PM ET
The Super Bowl officiating horse isn't quite dead, but it's taking a pounding. There's no reason to keep pounding it without advancing the conversation.

Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating vice president working for Fox, advanced it during a recent conversation with KNBR radio in San Francisco. The transcript from sportsradiointerviews.com highlights a few reasons why Pereira thought officials were correct in calling no penalty against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith on the 49ers' fourth-and-goal pass for Michael Crabtree in the final minutes:
  • No holding: The ball was in the air when Smith and Crabtree were contacting one another, according to Pereira. That eliminates holding or illegal contact as possible calls. Pass interference then becomes the only potential call. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was pleading for a holding call after the play.
  • No protest: Crabtree did not demonstrably plead for a penalty flag after the play. Players often complain even when there's no foul. The absence of a complaint in such a high-stakes situation suggests Crabtree had none.
  • Fade route: There's usually going to be contact on a fade route, Pereira noted. The rulebook reads, "If there is any question whether player contact is incidental, the ruling should be no interference."
  • Speed of game: Pereira thought slow-motion replays exaggerate the effects of contact. He pointed to analyst Phil Simms' initial reactions to the real-time play as accurate.

I would have appreciated a more technical review of pass interference rules. Pereira referred to "any type of material restriction that would’ve kept Crabtree from making the catch" as the standard. He specifically singled out the term "material restriction" as appearing in the rulebook. My version of the rulebook uses that phrase in association with illegal blocks, not in relation to interference.

My version of the rulebook outlines the following acts as pass interference, among others that are not listed:
  • Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent's opportunity to make the catch.
  • Playing through the back of an opponent in an attempt to make a play on the ball.
  • Grabbing an opponent's arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.
  • Extending an arm across the body of an opponent, thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, and regardless of whether the player committing such act is playing the ball.
  • Hooking an opponent in an attempt to get to the ball in such a manner that it causes the opponent's body to turn prior to the ball arriving.
  • Initiating contact with an opponent by shoving or pushing off, thus creating a separation in an attempt to catch a pass.

The rulebook then outlines the following acts, among others that are unnamed, as "permissible" ones:
  • Incidental contact by an opponent's hands, arms or body when both players are competing for the ball, or neither player is looking for the ball. If there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference.
  • Inadvertent tangling of feet when both players are playign the ball or neither player is playing the ball.
  • Contact that would normally be considered pass interference, but the pass is clearly uncatchable by the involved players, except as specified in 8-3-2 and 8-5-4 pertaining to blocking downfield by the offense.
  • Laying a hand on an opponent that does not restrict him in an attempt to make a play on the ball.
  • Contact by a player who has gained position on an opponent in an attempt to catch the ball

A notation beneath this section then specifies that eligible offensive and defensive players have the same right to the path of the ball and are subject to the same restrictions.

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