Matt Gay had just booted a 41-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter. With 9:48 left on the clock, the game appeared as if it were going to come down to the final play(s).
That meant every decision made from this point forward would deemed crucial, important, consequential, impactful - all of those words you hear when it comes to close games in the NFL.
As it turns out, it didn’t take the Bucs very long before they were faced with a crucial decision after the field goal. In fact, it happened on the Cardinals’ subsequent drive after the field goal.
Second-year corner M.J. Stewart was flagged for DPI on a 1st-and-10 that cost the Bucs 25 yards and gave the Cardinals the ball at the TB13. He hooked Larry Fitzgerald’s arm as both were tracking the ball and that was all she wrote.
Bruce Arians decide to challenge the call, despite having just one of these challenges work in his favor. That was all the way back in Week One, when he was able to overturn a no-call into a flag on Richard Sherman for pulling on Mike Evans as he tried to catch a pass.
Since that moment, he’s tried to do this in just about every game and he has lost every single challenge.
It’s not just an issue for the Bucs, either. This has become a league-wide issue and has been sharply criticized throughout the season, especially over the last few weeks.
Back to the story. So, Arians loses the challenge and his first timeout of the second half. A challenge and timeout that could be very useful in a one-score game.
It also happened to be Tampa Bay’s last challenge of the game. The Bucs were forced to throw the first red flag after an obvious David Johnson fumble was somehow missed by the refs. It was unfortunate and a stroke of bad luck, but the NFL will grant a third challenge if the first two are correct.
Which makes the decision to pull the trigger on the second one just as important - if not more important - as the first.
But Arians decided this instance was worth it and threw the flag. As you can see, it was pretty obvious the call wasn’t going to change:
The call didn’t change.
That wasn’t the end of it, either.
Later in the game, the Bucs were able to sack Kyler Murray for a big loss on 1st-and-10 in Arizona territory, but the refs instead determined that Murray’s knee was above the ground when he released the ball. The replays clearly showed that wasn’t the case, but since that was the live call, that’s what stood.
I don’t know if Arians forgot that he didn’t have any challenges left or what, but he threw the red flag once he saw that Murray was in fact down before he released the ball. The refs stripped the Bucs of a timeout due to the fact that they had no challenges left and based off of Arians’ reaction, he could’ve been flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty if the refs really wanted to.
And of course, the call remained as an incomplete pass (since the Bucs were out of challenges) and the Bucs missed out a potential drive-killing sack. Instead of a 12-yard loss on the play, they had to rely on Jamel Dean to make a game-saving interception deep in Tampa Bay territory.
Arians’ decision to challenge that call created a very tense situation for a team trying to end a four-game losing streak. If it weren’t for Dean’s interception, there’s little room to doubt that Arizona was going to score on that drive. If they score a touchdown, it’s 34-23 and it’s over. A field goal makes it an overtime game, at best and having just one timeout is not an ideal situation.
It was not a good decision to challenge the call. Arians didn’t put his players in a position to win the game with that decision. That’s what he is here to do.
After the game, he was asked if he can define pass interference due to the confusing circumstances surrounding the league’s new rule.
“No. No, I’m just going to keep challenging because if that wasn’t offensive pass interference on [wide receiver] Larry [Fitzgerald], I don’t what is,” he told reporters after the game.
It’s an interesting statement from Arians. Apparently, he will continue to test the waters when it comes to the new rule, but at what cost?
He did the same thing he did against the Cardinals a few weeks ago when the Bucs played the Titans. It was a one-score game (Bucs lead) in the third quarter and Arians blew a timeout and a challenge by throwing the red flag on an obvious DPI penalty from Carlton Davis. Both could’ve been used later in the game as the Bucs lost, 27-23.
You really don’t want to try and challenge this anyway, but it would be far less harmful if it weren’t the latter part of the second half in a one-score game. The negative risks in that situation far outweigh those in let’s say, the first half of a game.
It doesn’t appear to be a sound strategy, but Arians doesn’t seem to care. The situation appeared to hit a head on Sunday and it almost the cost the Bucs in a big way.
Maybe the tide will turn in his favor of these next few games, though.
You never know.
Arians backs down from no challenge and nothing will change here. The pursuit of justice in the name of pass interference calls will live on.
Long live the red flag.
Should Bruce Arians carry on as usual with PI challenges?
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