“The ref made the call,” Kittle said after the game, “and I’ve got to live with it.”
Niners Coach Kyle Shanahan said afterward he thought his team “should have got points” during that sequence “but they ended up calling that” pass interference on Kittle.
“I mean, I don’t get to see it very good from the sideline,” Shanahan said. “But I was definitely surprised, the way they were letting the whole game go.”
The call was debated by fans and other observers on social media. Kittle extended his arm and gave Sorensen a relatively light shove before making the catch for a 42-yard gain to the Kansas City 13-yard line. Some observers maintained that the contact wasn’t significant enough for a penalty to be called. Others contended the flag was justified.
Former NFL referee Terry McAulay, now a rules analyst for NBC, wrote on Twitter that Kittle’s push “was significantly less force” than a shove by Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph that went uncalled — and unchanged by instant replay — on his game-winning catch against the New Orleans Saints during this season’s NFC playoffs.
“But I also think that was a foul and a correct call,” McAulay wrote of the Kittle penalty.
The NFL’s officiating department supported the interference call made Sunday night by the on-field officials and did not overturn the ruling on replay. Shanahan was not permitted to challenge the call. Under the replay rules, interference calls and non-calls can be challenged by coaches in the first 28 minutes of each half but interference-related reviews are under the control of the replay official during the final two minutes of each half.
“The receiver extends his arm and creates separation while the ball is in the air, therefore it is offensive pass interference,” Al Riveron, the league’s senior vice president of officiating, wrote on the Twitter account of the NFL’s officiating department.
McAulay wrote, “I agree with that analysis.” But he and others pointed to the Rudolph play and wondered about the consistency of the league’s application of the pass interference rules via the instant replay rulings made on reviews of interference calls and non-calls.
The NFL’s team owners, at the behest of the league’s head coaches, made interference calls and non-calls reviewable by replay this season in the aftermath of the missed defensive pass interference penalty against the Los Angeles Rams during last season’s NFC title game in New Orleans. The non-call helped send the Rams, rather than the Saints, to last year’s Super Bowl.
The move was made despite the reservations of the NFL’s rulemaking competition committee, which always had resisted making judgment calls such as pass interference reviewable by replay.
This season’s results included widespread complaints by coaches, players and fans about the league’s application of the new replay system. Coaches decried what they called a lack of consistency in the replay rulings made by Riveron and the league office. Some said they no longer knew what constituted pass interference and what didn’t.
The league has promised a thorough review of all officiating issues, including the leadership of the officiating department, and the replay-for-interference system. NFL leaders accepted late in the season that the new replay system was not functioning as the teams intended, after originally taking the stance that the coaches had pushed for the rule and therefore it was incumbent on them to adjust to how the replay rulings were being made.
The owners approved the new replay rule on only a one-year trial basis, so the system will have to be renewed this offseason to remain in effect. The competition committee’s deliberations are to begin in earnest beginning later this month at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. The owners could take a renewal vote during the annual league meeting in March in Palm Beach, Fla.