There was no pool report, no video from Al Riveron. And there likely will be no public admission regarding the conversation(s) that resulted in a key defensive pass interference foul being wiped out in the Texans-Chiefs game.
But something fishy happened, as evidenced by the images broadcast by CBS.
It occurred with the Chiefs leading 17-9 in the second quarter, and driving for more with a first down on the Houson 32. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes fired a deep ball to the end zone, and it was intercepted by Texans defensive back Tashaun Gipson.
Referee Shawn Hochuli initially informed the fans in the stadium and the TV audience that Texans defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. had committed defensive pass interference on Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, with the video showing Johnson grabbing Kelce and driving him into the ground. Then, as the teams were lined up for the next play at the spot of the infraction (the Houston 23), Hochuli and two other officials huddled. During the conversation, one of the other officials clearly can be seen pressing his finger against his ear, it what most likely was an attempt to better hear whatever someone was saying to him.
PFT has learned that replay review definitely was not involved in this decision. This means that no one should have been talking to any of the officials regarding whether or not the call for pass interference should have been changed, or whether some other penalty should have been called.
After the consultation, Hochuli announced “the contact that was potentially a hold was while the ball was in the air; it is not pass interference, because it was not on the receiver that caught the ball.” While a little clunky on the back end, the point was that the officials concluded, apparently with input from either the replay official or 345 Park Avenue, that the blatant hold on Kelce happened while the ball was in the air, and that Kelce wasn’t the intended receiver — making the ball uncatchable as to him and thus resulting in no interference.
But the contact on Kelce seems to have clearly commenced and continued before Mahomes threw the ball. Thus, if there was going to be any type of consultation (even if technically unauthorized by the procedures for helping the officials on the field), someone should have told the officials that Johnson committed defensive holding on Kelce, with the interception nullified and possession given to the Chiefs, first and 10 from the Houston 27.
The league declined comment on this play; a source with knowledge of the situation informed PFT that it’s ultimately a judgment call for the officials on the field. The problem is that it looks like someone else’s judgment was involved — and that the judgment was erroneously exercised.
Ultimately, it was a key moment in the game. Tony Dungy called it the turning point on Sunday’s Football Night in America. Houston, with the ensuing touchback, drove the ball the length of the field and scored a touchdown, making the score 17-16 when it could have been 24-9, if the Chiefs had scored a touchdown after rightfully keeping possession.
The Chiefs are upset, as they should be. And the league should be more transparent when mistakes like this happen. Ultimately, that’s the best way to keep mistakes like this from happening again — and to keep fans from thinking that the simplest explanation is that someone, somewhere wanted the Texans to win the game.