Revisiting the Jimmy Graham pass interference call at the end of regulation in the Saints-49ers game. Plus, answering reader questions about the Bears' problems, the Seahawks' passing issues and whether refs should police fumble dogpiles
It's always amazing to me when the conspiracy theorists come out with fangs bared after their team gets what they perceive to be a bad call at a critical time in a big game. That happened Sunday in New Orleans at the end of the fourth quarter when Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was called for offensive pass interference for pushing off San Francisco defensive back Perrish Cox before catching what would have been the winning touchdown pass. The officials on the field—back judge Jim Quirk, to be exact—ruled pass interference on Graham and the game went into overtime. San Francisco ended up winning the game, 27-24.
So the Twitter-sphere was filled with those who believed one of three things: 1) Cox flopped on the play and faked everything; 2) Graham barely made contact with Cox and shouldn’t have been called for interference; 3) the officials never should call offensive pass interference on a Hail Mary because there is so much contact on those plays.
I went back on NFL Game Rewind on Monday morning and watched the play 10 or 12 times. I saw every angle. It is absolutely, unequivocally pass interference on Graham, as I wrote in my Monday column. It doesn't matter which angle is shown. There is contact and Cox goes down, and though it’s possible that he flopped unnecessarily on the play, it is not certain. It’s definitely not as certain as Graham interfering with Cox’s ability to make a play.
“It’s a foul," NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino said late Monday. “We’ve looked at it. In our view, he pushed off to create separation. To us, it was a clear foul."
Not much else to say, at least from my perspective. So let’s get to your emails from a newsy Week 10.
MONSTER PROBLEMS ON THE MIDWAY. Lifelong Chicago Bears fan here. I was chatting with my dad during the embarrassment that was Sunday Night Football. We are at odds on what the direction of the franchise needs to be from here. Do we fire everyone and start over? Is Cutler the problem? Is the defense just that epically bad or what?
This is a complicated problem. It’s not going to do anybody any good right now to be knee-jerk and to start firing people ... with one possible exception. The defense is unmotivated, not at all aggressive and appears to be woefully unprepared. Fair or unfair, that falls on defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. I’m generally not in favor of midseason firings, but I do think the Bears should strongly consider making a statement by firing Tucker. There has to be consequences to horrendous play in professional football. Giving up 106 points in the past two games justifies making a change at defensive coordinator immediately.
After that, I would wait to see how the team plays in the last seven weeks of this season. You don’t have to make a decision on Nov. 11. But if the franchise continues to spiral out of control, all options would be on the table if I were in Bears ownership. GM, coach, assistants, quarterback—everyone.
RODGERS OVERLOOKED. Great column as always, but I have a bone to pick with you this week: No mention of Aaron Rodgers under Offensive Player of the Week after one of the most epic halves a quarterback has ever played? But Michael Vick gets props for completing 10 passes? What the what?
—Scott, Auburn, Maine
You’re right; Rodgers certainly deserved it and I considered giving one of my two offensive honors to him. But there was something about that game that really troubled me. It sounds strange, but from the start, it was almost like Green Bay was playing some JV team. My two award winners, Marshawn Lynch and Vick, accomplished things that may not have matched Rodgers numerically, but were huge in their own right. Lynch carried the Seahawks to the greatest rushing day in their history and showed definitively that everything about Seattle’s offense, at least right now, needs to go through him. And Vick, in my opinion, had to be credited for stopping an eight-game losing streak against a boiling hot Pittsburgh team and making some classic old Vick-type plays in getting it done. One last thing: When I do awards like this, I try to lean toward the underdog winners. I can’t even tell you how often I’ve given one of these to Rodgers, but it’s almost one of those things that you could do every second or third week. I like to spread it around.
PILING ON PENALTIES. As we approach Veterans Day, I just wanted to say thanks. As a long-time reader, your support of the military over the years has been consistently apparent. Whether it's directly through your own personal involvement in troop visits and charities, or indirectly through your comments and articles, it is very much appreciated.
Here's my question for your mailbag: Why does the referee's authority seem to go out the window when dealing with turnover dogpiles? It was most recently on display during the London game on Sunday. The refs are trying to pull guys off a pile of bodies stacked 3 and 4 players high and, not only are they ignored, the players continue to try, unsuccessfully, to dig deeper into the pile. Wouldn't this be eliminated if the refs would flag any player that refuses to comply their instruction for delay of game or unsportsmanlike conduct?
—Jason, Lt. Col, USAF
Thank you for your kind words, and for your service. When I visited Afghanistan in 2008, I met so many good, young, and smart people who changed my opinion of so much about the military. Prior to that time, I thought of the military as a place young people who couldn’t find jobs or hated school made their weigh station. That was naïve and quite honestly really unfair to the vast majority who serve. I left Afghanistan feeling like I had been around college friends and classmates, many of whom were making the military a career and doing it primarily out of a sense of duty. I really loved that experience going over there with the USO.
I really like your idea. The NFL views what happens in a pile as a frustrating part of officiating because it’s hard to police. It would be a good idea to give players a warning, and then flag if they kept trying to burrow in the pile. I would also say that the issue of recovery in a pile really can’t be adjudicated much better than it is now. Once it is ruled a recovery for Team X, the only way to change that is by replay. And most often, replay cannot get this right, because there simply isn’t a clear view into a mass of bodies grabbing for a football.
WORRY ABOUT WILSON. As a Seahawks fan I love all of the intangibles that Russell Wilson brings to the table on and off the field. With that said, he has looked below average as a thrower this year. I know he will never get the stats of Rodgers, Manning or Brees. I am fine with that as long as we still win and he keeps his completion percentage and QBR high. Has his special play these first few years just made my expectations unrealistically high?
—Jordan, Salt Lake City
I think so. I think you have to understand that without Golden Tate and Percy Harvin, his two major-league weapons at receiver are gone, and the guy who should be a No. 2 or 3 receiver, Doug Baldwin, has been put into a role that is beyond his ability. I think what has hurt Wilson this year, at least to this point, is the fact that Paul Richardson and Jermaine Kearse have not really stepped up to replace Tate and Harvin. I wouldn’t worry about Wilson long-term if I were a Seahawks fan. He has proven throughout his college and pro career that he is a difference-maker. There’s no question in my mind about that.
WASTED TIMEOUT. Lost in the Jimmy Graham pass interference debate was why the Saints needed to be throwing that Hail Mary in the first place. On the Niners' final regulation drive, Anquan Boldin was credited with a catch on a second-down pass he blatantly dropped. The common viewer can see this easily on the very first replay. The Niners didn't even hustle to the line, so the replay official had a solid 5-7 seconds to communicate they're taking a look. It took a Saints timeout for them to finally decide to do so. Lo and behold, the Saints could have really used that timeout on their final drive.
It begs the question: why can't a coach who has timeouts left challenge a play when it's under 2:00? I understand they want to be sure plays can still be reviewed in the final two minutes; in this case, that rule basically penalized New Orleans because whoever was watching in New York was slow to alert the officials. The Saints had no other choice but to take a TO and hope someone in the league office woke up. Can't the NFL do something to improve challenges in the last two minutes?
—Mike, Portland, Ore.
Good question, Mike. Remember: it’s still the replay official upstairs in the stadium that retains most of the power in cases like this. So your gripe would be with the guy up in the press box in New Orleans. I do agree that forcing a team to look at replay on its own in the last two minutes and then if a stoppage isn’t forthcoming to call timeout itself is a bad use of the system. But I think overall it would be worse if the NFL made it possible for a team to lose a game in the last two minutes because it is out of replay challenges. I believe the downside in New Orleans on Sunday would pale in comparison to the downside in a game when a clear horrible call could not be reviewed because a team didn’t have challenges remaining.