Steve Smith Pass Interference Call Was Wrong


Oct 26, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (89) reacts after catching a pass for a touchdown but called back due to a penalty during the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Bengals defeated the Ravens 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

I personally do my best to avoid making rash calls.  As a guy who covers a sports team, I recognize the fact that I will be biased toward the teams and the players that I like, so it’s my responsibility to take a second look at something before rushing to judgement.  I did that with the now infamous Steve Smith pass interference call that cost the Ravens the game against the Bengals, and I can confidently say that it was the wrong call.

On 3rd down with 47 seconds left, Joe Flacco escaped a collapsing pocket by rolling to the right and launching an 80 yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith.  At first glance it appeared that Smith fought his way through one-on-one coverage from Bengals safety George Iloka and won, securing the catch and taking it to the house for what would have been a huge go ahead touchdown. But it was all for naught, as Smith was called for pass interference as he ran into the end zone.

During live action, the cameras didn’t capture exactly what happened, but the replay is pretty clear.  There was a lot of hand wringing going on and Smith clearly has his hands on Iloka as the pass is coming his way.  It appears that Smith barely moves his left hand towards Iloka, at which point he falls to the ground.  Watching it in slow motion, it’s hard to believe that Smith pushed him hard enough to send him to the ground.  Obviously the players weren’t happy.

FOX Sports analyst Mike Pereira defended the call and even went so far as to tweet out a video to back it up, but offers no proof or substance.  He just simply says it was the right call.  We fully understand the subjectivity and the bias on both sides. Bengals fans will defend the call, as will the NFL.  Ravens fans understandably feel robbed.

Whether or not there was enough contact to justify the call is a matter of opinion.  According to the official NFL rules for pass interference: Actions that do not constitute offensive pass interference include but are not limited to: (a) Incidental contact by a receiver’s hands, arms, or body when both players are competing for the ball or neither player is looking for the ball. Note 1: If there is any question whether player contact is incidental, the ruling should be no interference.  

Ticky-tack calls like this should never decide games.  It’s true that the Ravens had plenty of other opportunities to win this game.  But I just don’t see enough on tape to believe that there was enough contact to justify a call. Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter and the outcome of the game isn’t going to change.  But I hope that the officiating committee takes a long hard look at this and works to avoid letting the same thing happen again.