Refs rob Atlanta with controversial no-call on definite Richard Sherman pass interference

The Seahawks got bailed out by the officials at home once again. An unbelievable, controversial no-call on Richard Sherman’s mugging of Julio Jones on a late fourth-and-10 bomb in a two-point game gave Seattle an ill-gotten victory and possibly changed the entire landscape of the NFC playoff race.

The Seahawks had taken a 26-24 lead late in the game on a Steven Hauschka field goal, giving the Atlanta Falcons the ball down two points with 1:57 remaining and one timeout. On a fourth-and-10 from his own 25, Matt Ryan unleashed a deep pass to a double-covered Jones. As the ball was settling and Jones was positioning himself for the catch, Sherman grabbed Jones’ right arm and pulled him to the turf, allowing Jones to get only one hand on the ball, which fell to the turf, giving Seattle possession and effectively ending the game.

Jones got up looking for a flag, while his coach, a livid Dan Quinn, sprinted down the sideline screaming at anyone in stripes. In the FOX booth, Chris Myers and Ronde Barber had no doubt about whether Sherman had committed a penalty. "That’s pass interference," Barber said. "[Sherman] clearly impedes Julio Jones to go get that football with both hands."

There’s no doubt it was PI — none at all. Even the most hardened homer of a Seahawks fan couldn’t dare argue otherwise. Sherman interfered with Jones. Fact-check it. But does that mean a flag should have been thrown?

Pass interference is so penal in the NFL — a spot foul instead of a 10- or 15-yard penalty. In this case, the Sherman foul would have given Atlanta about 35 yards. You can’t help but wonder what an official would have done if throwing a flag meant Atlanta had first-and-10 from its own 40 instead of first-and-10 from Seattle’s.

Then there’s always the folks in the peanut gallery who say a foul is a foul and there shouldn’t be any difference whether it happens in the first 30 seconds of a game or the last. They’re wrong. Situations matter, which is why basketball players get away with a little more as the clock ticks to zero, hockey players rarely get sent to the box in playoff overtimes and the NFL doesn’t throw flags when eight guys go up for a ball on a Hail Mary in the end zone. Officials rightfully give players leeway in the final seconds for two reasons: 1) so games aren’t decided by the refs; 2) so we don’t see more flopping than a World Cup qualifier.

This wasn’t one of those times. It wasn’t a last-second play. It wasn’t a scrum to catch a ball that was essentially uncatchable. It was three players streaking down the field with Jones in the best position to make a 35-yard catch until he was basically tackled by Sherman, whose "defending" made it impossible for the Falcons star to make a catch. Throwing a flag would have led to a punitive punishment, but what else do you deserve when you clinch a game for your team because you tackled a wideout waiting for a catch?

Though, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Atlanta would have only had the ball on the Seattle 40-yard line with 90 seconds and one timeout left. The Falcons still had a few yards to go and a few plays to execute properly to get in position for a field goal that may or may not have gone through the uprights. (Kicker Matt Bryant is perfect on the year, however.) That’s why the call had to be made. Not throwing the flag awarded the game to Seattle. Throwing the flag would have kept a fair fight going.