PITTSBURGH — Like so many NFL games in recent memory, the Steelers’ 28-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks turned on a critical replay review by the officials.
A new twist on this decision — that went in favor of the visiting Seattle Seahawks — was the kind of call that was being reviewed.
For the first time, NFL coaches are permitted to challenge pass interference this season as part of a new rule that was put into place in reaction to a missed defensive pass interference call against the Los Angeles Rams in the 2018 NFC Championship Game.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll actually challenged two pass interference calls on Sunday, but it was the second one that was crucial.
Right after the Steelers scored to make it a one-score game with 11:16 to play, the Seahawks started a drive that was immediately beset by penalties. Germain Ifedi was flagged for a false start. D.J. Fluker got caught holding. Suddenly, it was 2nd and 20, with the ball on Seattle’s 27.
That’s when quarterback Russell Wilson heaved up a long prayer to slot receiver Tyler Lockett, who was blanketed by Steelers safeties Terrell Edmunds and Kameron Kelly.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) September 16, 2019
The ball hit the turf. The Seahawks lined up to call a 3rd and 20 running play and punt the ball back to Pittsburgh with all the momentum.
But Carroll’s challenge halted that momentum temporarily and then permanently once replay official Al Riveron ruled that Edmunds had interfered with Lockett.
Riveron explained his ruling to pool reporter Mark Kaboly of the Athletic:
“There were three or four TV angles that show us that there was clear and obvious visual evidence that the receiver was significantly hindered by the defender in his attempt to make a catch,” Riveron said.
Significance, is of course, a subjective matter. That’s part of the problem with reviewing subjective calls like pass interference, something the NFL has shied away from before now.
The Steelers disagreed with the level of significance, and the process in general. Head coach Mike Tomlin said he did not get an explanation for the call.
“I did not,” he said. “I disagree with it. I don’t believe any of us have an understanding what those standards are once those things go to replay. I don’t know.”
“It really doesn’t matter exactly what I think,” Edmunds said. “They made the call. Just a few plays after that, I have to make that play down in the end zone. You can’t really argue against the refs.”
Ah yes, the pass interference penalty put the Seahawks at the Steelers’ 35-yard line. But a mismatch two plays later put Edmunds on wide receiver DK Metcalf, and the big rookie made a play for a big touchdown.
“He made a good play,” Edmunds said. “He made a good catch. Russ put it in a good spot. He made a play right there. I’ve just got to fight through the hands even more.”
Seattle made a nice adjustment, as Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson had shut Metcalf down all day.
They lined up with three receivers to the left, with Metcalf inside of the tight end split to the boundary. Nelson covered the tight end, giving Metcalf a free release to get behind Edmunds.
After what Steven Nelson did on Metcalf all game long, in this crucial situation, Edmunds winds up covering him. Because the tight end is lined up outside and Metcalf in the slot. #InGameAdjustments #Steelers pic.twitter.com/XQ2HMymbKA
— Chris Halicke (@ChrisHalicke) September 16, 2019
The Steelers were able to score once more to again close the gap, but those two plays ended up having a large impact on the outcome.
The NFL’s policy of reviewing pass interference remains controversial, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.