LANDOVER — Jay Gruden wouldn’t coach Kelvin Harmon any differently.
The Redskins coach stood at the podium after Washington’s 23-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals lamenting the fact the rookie wide receiver was called for two offensive pass interference calls, one of which caused Gruden to throw his challenge flag.
For the first time ever this season, coaches are now allowed to challenge pass interference calls and non-calls. Gruden challenged two calls from the referees — and both of them were denied.
Gruden struggled to understand why.
“All I know is I want Kelvin Harmon to do that every time the ball is in the air,” Gruden said. “That’s why we drafted him because he’s aggressive when the ball in the air. If he can’t do what he did in this game then I don’t know what he can do. I’m going to continue to coach Kelvin Harmon to go up and go get the ball like he did tonight and good things will happen for him.
“We’ll get the explanation hopefully tomorrow or the next day, but I applaud Kelvin for his effort for attacking the ball.”
Harmon was first called for offensive pass interference in the fourth quarter with 13:31 left. The sixth-round pick jumped for the ball and Bengals cornerback Davontae Harris failed to turn when he collided with the receiver — leaving Gruden mystified when the penalty was called on Harmon.
Gruden then challenged the penalty, leading to a three-minute review process. NFL rules state officials can overturn pass interference penalties only when there is “clear and obvious” visual evidence. In Harmon’s case, the league’s replay command center in New York didn’t think the play warranted a reversal.
That, however, did not sit well with the Redskins — nor their fans. Though there was a sparse crowd at FedEx Field on Thursday, the fans who were in the stands loudly yelled at the referees.
“We’re not going to talk about what constituted it, because what happens here is the ruling on the field was offensive pass interference,” Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, told a pool reporter. “And remember in replay, we start replay with the premise on the field that the call is correct. And unless we have clear and obvious visual evidence to overturn the ruling on the field, we will not do that.
“In this situation, there was not clear and obvious visual evidence to overturn it, so we let the ruling on the field stand.”
Cornerback Josh Norman, though, couldn’t believe it.
“You look at it, I didn’t even think they were throwing a flag for that,” Norman said with a laugh. “Thought it was something else and it ended up being that. I don’t know. It’s the first time implementing (replay for pass interference), so to see it live, dang that’s crazy.”
The Redskins also weren’t pleased when Harmon drew his second interference call later in the quarter — which was the result of a Bengals challenge. Coach Zac Taylor threw his challenge flag on the field and the replay command center then ruled Harmon interfered with the Bengals’ defender before making his catch.
“There was clear and obvious visual evidence that (Harmon) pulls (the defender) to the ground and significantly hinders him,” Riveron said. “There’s clear and obvious evidence that he pulls him back, and he significantly hinders the opponent’s opportunity to make a play on the football.”
In general, it was a messy, flag-filled affair for both teams. The officials called 22 penalties — 12 of which went against Cincinnati, with the other 10 going against Washington. Four offensive pass interference penalties were called.
On the game’s opening drive alone, there were seven flags thrown.
Last year, the Redskins were the eighth-most penalized team. They were called for 115 penalties and led the league in offensive holding with 32 calls.
“The penalties, man, it’s the same old tune,” Gruden said. “It’s something we have to get cleaned up. They’re calling these games pretty tight, so we have to make sure we do a better job of avoiding these penalties somehow.”