Controversial Penalties Define Colts vs. Browns Matchup: Referees’ Calls on Illegal Contact and Pass Interference Explained


In a dramatic turn of events, the Browns staged an impressive comeback against the Colts, securing a final touchdown in the last 15 seconds to snatch victory on the road. However, it’s worth noting that they received some crucial assistance along the way.

Twice, the Colts were penalized in questionable calls deep in their own territory, resulting in the advancement of the ball closer to the end zone. The latter of these penalties placed the ball at the Colts’ 1-yard line. It took several attempts, but the Browns ultimately succeeded in pushing the ball over the goal line from a yard out, sealing a 39-38 victory for Cleveland. The Colts managed just two offensive plays before fumbling the ball, ultimately leading to their defeat by that same score.

After the game, Colts coach Shane Steichen expressed the need to review the plays, particularly the call for illegal contact. He explained, “They said illegal contact there. So I’ve got to go back and look at it and see it from our sidelines.”


The first penalty proved to be the pivotal moment of the drive. Browns quarterback P.J. Walker was preparing to throw but fumbled the ball, with the Colts recovering it, which would have effectively ended the game. However, officials determined that illegal contact had occurred between Amari Cooper and Darrell Baker Jr. According to NFL rules, beyond the five-yard zone, a defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver who is attempting to evade him if the player with the ball remains in the pocket. The defender may only use his hands or arms to defend or protect himself against imminent contact caused by a receiver.

While it was evident that Baker made contact with Cooper beyond the five-yard mark, it also seemed that Cooper pushed his hands into Baker, who was already starting to fall down. Furthermore, it appeared that Cooper was not hindered by the contact from Baker.

Next, a pass interference penalty was called. Walker targeted Donovan Peoples-Jones, sending the ball soaring into the end zone. However, another flag was thrown, this time accusing Baker of defensive pass interference. While the contact might have justified the penalty, the pass was undeniably uncatchable, as it sailed well beyond the end zone, which should have nullified the flag.

In critical moments late in games, officials often tend to let the players play, even if calls are borderline. However, on this particular Sunday, the referees left no doubt about their impact on the drive that ultimately determined the outcome of the game.