Buffalo’s most recent prime-time home game prior to Thursday night concluded with an untimed down. In the Thursday night matchup, Buffalo’s prime-time home game should have also concluded with an untimed down. This critical moment unfolded with blatant interference on tight end Cade Otton, who was obstructed by two Buffalo defenders just a few feet away from where the ball landed.
The play in question featured Taylor Rapp and Christian Benford both engaging in interference against Otton. It’s undeniable that the ball was well within Otton’s reach had he not been forcefully impeded by these two defenders.
Surprisingly, the Buccaneers refrained from lodging complaints about the absence of a pass interference call at that crucial moment. The only indirect reference to the incident came from Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield, who made a somewhat backhanded remark with no subsequent media follow-up. Mayfield told reporters, “Looked like a bunch of guys landing on the ground over there. I’m not sure who tripped over who.” However, it was evident that no one tripped; Rapp and Benford physically restrained Otton, leading to his eventual fall.
Even with the interference, Tampa Bay receiver Chris Godwin still had an opportunity to make the catch. “They had a guy pressed on me,” Godwin explained after the game, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “I had to avoid him, so I’m a little late to the party. So when I got there, I just tried to look up and find the way. I wasn’t sure whether he grabbed me or not, but by the time I got my head around, I saw the ball coming in low.”
It’s worth noting that, inexplicably, the NFL applies a different standard to pass interference on Hail Mary plays despite the rules containing no such distinction. The official rulebook states, “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.” In this case, there’s no argument that Rapp and Benford did not significantly hinder Otton.
This situation is reminiscent of when the NFL was preparing to experiment with replay review for pass interference, resulting in a separate standard for Hail Mary plays. This essentially implies that, in such high-stakes moments, the league seems to disregard its own rules.
Al Michaels, perhaps intentionally, alluded to the distinct standard for Hail Mary plays after the game concluded, stating, “You could call penalties on a bunch of guys here if you really wanted to.” In this instance, penalties should have been called on Rapp and Benford, affording the Bucs an untimed down from the doorstep of the end zone for a chance at a game-winning play.
This incident underscores the importance of the league maintaining consistency in its officiating, especially as it continues to embrace sports gambling. The Bucs were unfairly denied an opportunity to win the game due to the NFL’s inexplicable decision to overlook blatant pass interference on last-ditch throws to the end zone.