On Sunday afternoon the New York Jets (4-1) went on the road to take on the floundering Denver Broncos (2-3) in Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. From the opening kickoff it was a hard-fought battle, seesawing between the Jets and Broncos.
Unfortunately, the happenings of the first 58 minutes of action were rendered useless by a questionable call that handed the game to the New York Jets.
With only one timeout remaining and well out of field goal range, the Jets were forced to go for a 4th-and-6 conversion from the Broncos 48-yard line.
Mark Sanchez took the snap and dropped back to pass for the first down; finding no one open and the Broncos pass rush bearing down on him, Sanchez scrambled to his left before heaving a desperation pass down the left sideline towards the end zone. The pass was intended for Santonio Holmes who, after being briefly open on a well-run stop-and-go route where the corner bit in for the pick, was blanketed by Broncos safety Renaldo Hill.
Despite excellent coverage, the throw was short, causing Holmes to stop on a dime. This quick change of direction caused Holmes to stumble backwards. Meanwhile, Hill responded to the move, bringing his arm back towards Holmes where his hand made light contact with Holmes' face mask. Both players continued to play the ball to the ground where it fell incomplete.
Immediately, the official right on top of the play pulled his flag for defensive pass interference. This resulted in a 1st-and-goal for the Jets on the Broncos 2-yard line. The next play, LT ran in for the game-winning touchdown nearly untouched.
For clarification, this is not to argue that—by the book—the act wasn't a violation against the defense; instead, the main problem I have with this call is the circumstance in which it was called.
If you watch football enough, you know that officials will often pocket their flags near the end of games on close calls that have the potential to change the outcome of the game. This may mean letting a borderline hold go un-penalized or a defensive back to break up a fade in the end zone without turning and finding the ball.
In this case, the Denver Broncos were robbed of a signature win for the 2010-11 season because of some contact on essentially a fourth-down Hail Mary by the New York Jets. If the flag was kept in the pocket the Broncos could have run down the clock without a first down to move to 3-3. Instead, they fall to 2-4 and have to be thinking to themselves, "What more could we have done?"