Ron Rivera found a grey area in the pass interference challenge rule, and the Panthers paid the price

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera thought he was using the new pass interference challenge to his advantage Thursday night. It turns out, he found one of the major grey areas in the NFL’s new rule where coaches can challenge pass interference calls and non-calls. 

With 2:19 left in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rivera challenged a pass interference that wasn’t called in order to advance the Panthers’ field position and gain an automatic first down. Cam Newton threw an incomplete pass to Curtis Samuel deep down the right side. The pass appeared if it had an opportunity to be caught had there not have been contact on Samuel. 

When Rivera challenged the call, the replay showed Buccaneers defensive back Carlton Davis hit Samuel five yards past the line of scrimmage, which would result in an illegal contract penalty and an automatic first down. Newton still had the ball in his hands when the contract was made.  Rivera lost the pass interference challenge because technically there was no pass interference on the field. There was illegal contact, but that’s not what the pass interference challenge was intended for. 

The NFL has a problem on its hands with its new rule. 

“That you can’t challenge illegal contact,” Rivera said on an explanation the officials gave him when he lost the challenge Thursday night. “I said, ‘No, I was challenging pass interference.’ I thought when the guy was riding him while the ball was in the air that would be pass interference, even though the contact started while the ball was still in his hand.”

The result of the play showed NFL officials missed the illegal contact, a penalty that wasn’t called and cost Rivera a timeout in the process. The pass interference challenge was intended for coaches to challenge a pass interference ruling, but illegal contact should be considered as part of the review process. Carolina would have been rewarded with the first down and Rivera wouldn’t have been charged a timeout. 

The NFL still has plenty of problems to fix with the pass interference challenge. They can solve this one immediately as illegal contact on a pass interference review will certainly come up in the future. 

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