The Chiefs won their fourth straight game Sunday against the Vikings because of what veteran safety Justin Reid called a clutch performance from a “special” defense, even though Minnesota fans may still be stewing over a couple of late non-calls by the officiating crew that could’ve aided a comeback. But were the refs right to hold their flags on the final drives of the Week 5 contest?
Let’s first re-examine the calls (or lack thereof) in question: the Vikings trailed by seven late in Sunday’s game, but they drove the ball to the Chiefs’ 19-yard line with 4:58 left when quarterback Kirk Cousins lofted a deep ball down the right sideline to rookie Jordan Addison, covered by L’Jarius Sneed. The latter appeared to make some contact with Addison on the eventual incompletion, but officials did not call pass interference, and an ensuing delay of game by the Vikings made it fourth-and-12 from the 24.
On that fourth down, Cousins tried almost exactly the same thing: a deep shot to Addison down the right sideline, working against Sneed. This time, the ball fell incomplete away from Addison in the end zone, but Sneed appeared to be even more entangled with the wide receiver, drawing a flag. The Chiefs cornerback immediately protested the call, pacing back and forth with his palms raised, before briefly removing his helmet. He could be seen in the broadcast asking the refs, “How?”
After an on-field conference, the officials announced there would be no pass interference call, rescinding the flag and drawing the ire of the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd. But CBS Sports rules analyst Gene Steratore agrees with the decision.
“When the back judge is walking over to the side official (to discuss this), he may be talking to him about catchability,” Steratore said on the broadcast, per The Kansas City Star. “Then the conversation can increase more to, ‘Do you think they’re running with each other?’ I think that’s what they came up with and honestly, I agree with (the) no-call for pass interference there.”
Replays show Sneed making first contact and lightly grabbing Addison’s jersey as they reach the end zone up against each other, but they also show the pass falling more to the inside, away from where Addison was running. As for Sneed briefly removing his helmet after the play, which would typically draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Steratore believes that was a missed call. But it would not have affected the Vikings’ ability to continue their comeback attempt on that particular drive.
Why? Because Sneed removing his helmet occurred after the play was over and thus after a change of possession, meaning the Chiefs already technically possessed the ball thanks to their fourth-down stand. Had officials flagged Sneed for taking off his helmet rather than seemingly advising him to put it back on during their discussions, Kansas City would’ve had first-and-10 but half-the-distance to the goal on their next offensive snap, with 4:48 to play.