By Michael Parente
Leon McFadden, right, got flagged for a questionable pass interference penalty on the above play with 40 seconds remaining in Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium, gift-wrapping another come-from-behind win for the Patriots.
Who knew Roger Goodell celebrated Hanukah?
Before we go any further, no, this does not make up for the Carolina game, the “Sugar Bear” Hamilton roughing-the-passer call in 1976, or Vince McMahon’s Montreal Screwjob in ’97.
This was nothing more than a gift from the Football Gods, one which the Patriots needed desperately Sunday in order to avoid an embarrassing loss at home to the Cleveland Browns, a setback that would’ve stung a whole lot more when coupled with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is probably done for the season after suffering a leg injury in the third quarter.
The Patriots recovered an onside kick at the Cleveland 40 with 1:10 remaining after scoring a touchdown to cut the Browns’ lead to 26-21. Two plays later, Tom Brady desperately heaved a floater toward the end zone trying to hit Josh Boyce in stride. The ball landed just out of Boyce’s reach, but field judge Dyrol Prioleau flagged cornerback Leon McFadden for pass interference, giving the Patriots an automatic first down at the 1-yard line. McFadden, who needed to turn on the jets just to catch up to Boyce, barely touched Brady’s intended target. It was incidental contact at best with McFadden’s outstretched forearm grazing Boyce’s shoulder from behind as the ball sailed through Boyce’s fingertips. There’s more contact on a date with Tim Tebow than there was on this play. Watch it from whichever angle you choose – it’s the same every time.
This is a no-brainer. There’s no gray area on pass interference. You either interfere, or you don’t, and it’s a lot easier to judge when everything is unfolding in front of you in slow motion. The NFL is too fast and too explosive to expect the naked eye to see everything correctly in real time. That’s why we have replay in the first place. And with quarterbacks and wide receivers benefiting more and more each year from rule changes, making this more of a passers’ league now than it’s ever been, defensive players need something to level the playing field.
The NFL says its ultimate goal is to get it right, yet it continues to ignore the number of ill-timed ticky-tack fouls that have directly affected the outcome of important games through the years. The potential swing in momentum from a pass interference call, whether it’s in the first quarter or the fourth, is too dynamic to leave in the hands of officials. Furthermore, if you let teams challenge pass interference, you also deter quarterbacks with their backs against the wall from desperately heaving the ball 40 yards down the field into traffic in hopes of drawing a gift-wrapped pass interference call. Don’t think for a second that didn’t cross Brady’s mind when he chucked that Hail Mary toward Boyce. Given how quick officials are to call pass interference, why not take a shot?
This is going to be a “we’ll see” kind of finish to 2013. The Patriots are clinging to that No. 2 seed in the AFC and can ill afford another loss, especially since the No. 3 seed, Cincinnati, owns the tiebreaker and only trails New England by one game in the conference standings. Watching the Patriots struggle like this against mid-level competition doesn’t bode well for their long-term playoff hopes, especially if they slip to No. 3 in the AFC and have to play twice on the road, where they are just 3-3 this season.
They might need every gift they can get to survive the next three weeks and beyond. Through Goodell, all things are possible.
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