The Washington Commanders were left with a bitter taste of defeat after a controversial finish in Sunday night's 20-12 loss to the New York Giants.
With a chance to tie the game late, quarterback Taylor Heinicke's pass to Curtis Samuel on fourth-and-goal fell incomplete as Giants corner Darnay Holmes was draped all over the wideout on an apparent pass interference. No flag came.
"Well, what did you guys see?" Commanders head coach Ron Rivera seethed after the game, via the official transcript. "That's exactly what I thought too. In fact, don't ask me about the referees because I can't answer the question."
Snapshots of the play looked like Holmes initiated contact before the ball arrived, driving through Samuel's back.
"Oh, yeah. I saw a picture, and the dude had his arms around his neck before he could catch the ball, so who knows," Heinicke said of the non-call.
Referee John Hussey told pool reporter Nicki Jhabvala that officials didn't deem enough contact to warrant a flag.
"Pass interference is a judgment call," Hussey said. "To the officials it didn't rise to what they felt was a restriction, thus they didn't call it. That's basically the bottom line there. It's a judgment call and they didn't believe it was pass interference."
The non-call came two plays after the Commanders had a Brian Robinson 1-yard touchdown run wiped off the board by an illegal formation penalty on receiver Terry McLaurin. The wideout was slightly off the line of scrimmage, and cameras showed him checking with the ref twice before the snap.
"I feel like I was on the ball the entire time if you look through the game I lined up there pretty much every play, so I checked to see I was good the first time and he was like I can move up a little bit," McLaurin said. "So when I moved up, I was good and he said I was good. I'm not trying to get fined. We had our other opportunities, but for it to come down like that, that's tough."
Hussey said in the pool report that he did not see the pre-snap exchange.
"What I was told and what has been confirmed is that the ball was snapped at the half-yard line, and he was lined up a yard back at the 1½-yard line," Hussey said. "In order to be deemed legal, he needs to break the beltline, the waist of the center, and he was not breaking the waistline of the center. That's why the penalty was called, because he was not in a legal formation."
McLaurin noted that while he disagreed with the call, he can't leave it up to refs.
"It's frustrating because I pride myself on being attention to detail and I am detail-oriented in everything I do and with a game on the line, you don't want to make a mistake to hurt your team," the wideout said. "I just wanted to make sure that I was good and I felt like I was with his confirmation. At the end of the day, I'm just trying to take ownership and make sure it's not close, but it's kind of tough sometimes because if your helmet is leaning over, they may call offsides."
As much as a late flag and subsequent non-call hurt, Washington didn't help itself earlier with mistakes. Heinicke fumbled twice -- one was returned for a touchdown, and the other wiped out points. The offense went 1 of 3 in the red zone, and the defense couldn't get the Giants off the field late.
The loss pushed Washington to the No. 7 seed in the NFC. Now they'll have to fend off a late-season surge by Detroit and Seattle to make the postseason.
"It's disappointing as heck," Rivera said. "It really is. It pisses me off. We had an opportunity to win. I thought we did everything we were supposed to do, getting the ball down to the one yard line and getting lined up. Checking to make sure we're lined up properly and then having that taken away from us. That's why it's hard to comprehend like that."