The conclusion of Sunday’s Browns-Colts game was marred by a pair of questionable calls on the decisive drive. The owner of the Colts now says the league has conceded that the penalty flags were thrown erroneously.
“The NFL admits and understands that they did not make the correct calls at end of Sunday’s Colts/Browns Game,” Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay tweeted on Tuesday night. “I believe we need to institute Instant Replay for all calls, including Penalties, in the last two minutes of All Games.”
He’s presumably referring to an illegal contact foul that wiped out what would have been a fumble that the Colts recovered, which would have iced a 38-33 win, and to a subsequent pass interference penalty that gave the Browns first and goal on the one. The Browns later scored the game-winning touchdown on fourth and goal.
The first one was close. As a source with another team opined, far worse contact on receivers goes uncalled on a regular basis, especially late in games. As to the second one, the pass was clearly uncatchable; it landed well out of the end zone. As one of the PFT writers remarked on the text chain through which we constantly communicate, not even Dwight Clark on a ladder could have caught that ball.
It’s unusual for teams to go public with such admissions from the league. Surely, 345 Park Avenue won’t appreciate Irsay’s candor.
The bigger question is whether Irsay’s argument will get any traction. He’s proposing that everything should be reviewable in the final two minutes of a game. In 2019, the NFL made pass interference calls and non-calls reviewable. It became a debacle, primarily through a shifting and inconsistent standard as to what did and didn’t constitute interference.
In this specific case, replay review would have (or at least should have) found that the pass for which interference was called was indeed uncatchable.
However the league handles it going forward, it’s something that needs to be fixed. With the NFL stuffing its pockets full of money from gambling endorsement, the league has an enhanced obligation to do whatever reasonably can be done to eliminate mistakes by officials, especially in the final moments of a close game. Chalking it up to human error should no longer be good enough; in today’s climate, mistakes like that affect interests well beyond those of the two teams.
So what will the league do? More importantly, will the league do anything before one specific scandal becomes big enough to spark external oversight, whether in the form of civil litigation over gambling losses, Congressional action (up to and including the creation of a federal agency charged with, among other things, creating and enforcing rules regarding officiating), or prosecution for those whose actions potentially cross the line from negligence into intentional and deliberate misconduct.
It’s coming, eventually. The NFL can either wait for it to happen and deal with the ensuing mess(es), or it can take meaningful action now aimed at giving the teams and those who wager their hard-earned money an explanation more meaningful than, “Shit happens.”