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The Effects of Pass Interference in the AFC Championship

Updated: May 21, 2020

On Sunday, the Titans fell to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, 35-24, after struggling to keep up with the Chiefs explosive offense in the second half.

In the Titans loss, the refs made a string of poor calls. One of the most irritating parts of this game was the officiating and while it did not cost the Titans the game, it was terrible in many cases.

Pass interference has been a highly criticized rule and it was a factor late in the game:

The refs made a few bad calls like this one. Their inconsistency in calling pass interference was the most frustrating thing. They did not call pass interference on a similar play just a possession later:

Pass interference rule, according to the NFL Rule book:

“It is pass interference by either team when any act by a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball. Pass interference can only occur when a forward pass is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage, regardless of whether the pass is legal or illegal, or whether it crosses the line.“

In the first pass interference in question, Titans corner, Tramaine Brock was able to turn around and hit the ball out of the air. He made some contact, as all defensive backs do and was called for pass interference. Brock certainly played the ball and it appeared that more contact came from Chiefs Receiver, Mecole Hardman, than from Tramaine Brock. It is pass interference if a player makes contact with a receiver and does not turn his head though Brock clearly turned his head in order to bat the ball away.

CBS Commentator,Tony Romo, described the play as "fantastic" by Patrick Mahomes despite the Chiefs being bailed out by the refs. The penalty gave the Chiefs 41 yards because it was a spot foul and it came with just under 4 minutes left. The Titans eventually got the ball back with just over 2 minutes left and if it were not for that play, the Titans would've had a legitimate shot to comeback. The Titans trailed 35-24 at the time with a timeout and the 2 minute warning remaining.

The second play where Adam Humprhies appeared to be interfered with, showed the refs' inconsistency. If the refs are going to call the first pass interference on Brock, they must call it on Chiefs defensive end, Tanoh Kpassagnon. Kpassagnon made absoloutly no effort to play the ball and never turned his head. He made clear contact with Humprhies and it was clearly interference.

Pass interference has been the most criticized rule in the NFL over the last year. Last year, the Saints were knocked out of the playoffs after a clear pass interference was missed. Pass interference was made challengable this season though most challenges have ended unsuccessfully. Through the first 9 weeks, just 5 of 53 challenged pass interference were overturned.

Should Mike Vrabel have challenged Brock's pass interference? Yes, at that point in the game, there is nothing to lose. I am not convinced the play would've been overturned but it could have completely changed the course of the game if it was. The Titans still had one timeout remaining, which could have enabled them to challenge play, and you could certainly make the argument that the play was not pass interference.

Pass interference is a very unclear rule and it should be re-evaluated. These calls were not quite as blatant as last year's NFC Championship but they did shape the outcome of the game.

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