Dolphins livid over rare pass interference call saving Jets

The Dolphins may be tanking, but they wanted no part of the league’s help in their latest loss.

The NFL has rarely called pass interference penalties through replay review this season, but the Dolphins were the victims of an exception Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

With the Jets trying for a desperate comeback in the final two minutes, Sam Darnold threw a pass on third-and-18 to Vyncint Smith. Dolphins cornerback Nik Needham got there early and pulled on Smith’s right shoulder from behind, appearing to turn him away from the ball. But as the pass fell incomplete, no flag came with it.

Within seconds, though, the NFL initiated a review with senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron and his office in New York. They determined, “it was clear and obvious [Smith] did get significantly hindered prior to the ball getting there,” Riveron told a pool reporter.

And so the Jets got new life with 43 seconds left in the game and four plays later, Sam Ficken’s 44-yard field goal lifted them to a 22-21 win over the Dolphins.

Vyncint Smith (l) and Nik Needham
Vyncint Smith (l) and Nik NeedhamPaul J. Bereswill

“Honestly, it’s just trash,” Needham said of the game-changing call. “I feel like that’s a competitive [play]. … They didn’t call anything all day until that last play. So that’s crazy.”

Dolphins coach Brian Flores was steamed on the sideline when the overturned call was announced, slamming his headset down. After the game, he made a beeline to head referee Craig Wrolstad and appeared to scream at him, “That’s a horses–t call.”

“I was upset that we lost the game,” Flores said later. “I’m not going to answer any questions about the officiating.”

A few of his players did for him, though, feeling like they got robbed and that the call wouldn’t have been changed had it happened earlier in the game.

“In that situation, tough ballgame, those type of calls you just can’t make,” defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said. “You have to let receivers play a little bit physical, cornerbacks play a little bit physical. I just feel like that particular point in the game … you don’t make that call. You just let the game play.”

“I’ve never seen it,” cornerback Eric Rowe added. “I’ve never seen it getting called from the New York office.”

Replay review of pass interference is new this season, spurred by the Saints getting robbed by a non-call in the playoffs last season. But there has been little consistency in how it gets called from game to game, with very few non-calls getting overturned into penalties.

“It is not being applied any differently than it was at the beginning of the year,” Riveron said.

That won’t be much solace for the Dolphins, though, especially after Needham was on the wrong end of another overturned call earlier in the game. He appeared to wrestle the ball out of Demaryius Thomas’ hands in the end zone on a second-quarter play that was called an incompletion on the field. After review, it became a 14-yard touchdown catch by Thomas.

Then came the fourth-quarter dagger.

“Got them in a fourth-down situation … had them out of field-goal range, about to win the game right there and then they call that,” Needham said. “You give the game to the officials and it’s crazy.”

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