As most football fans will recall, in January of last year the New Orleans Saints lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship game. What’s remembered most about that matchup was the egregious pass interference incident in the closing moments of the game by the Rams which the officials completely failed to call. The league quickly rushed to bring in a rule change for the following season, allowing official reviews and coach’s challenges on pass interference calls, neither of which had previously been possible. To say that the results were “mixed” is to be overly generous.
CBS Sports analyst Michael Hurley reports this week that the experiment is likely ending after only a single season. But why? It’s not that the rule change wasn’t needed. It was simply a case of the officials not liking the rule and almost studiously failing to use it as designed. (CBS Boston)
Upon further review … the NFL failed so miserably at enacting a process to review pass interference penalties that the league is punting it after just one season.
That appears to be the plan, anyway, as NFL Network’s Judy Battista reported this week that “pass interference replay almost certainly will not be extended.”
In eliminating a rule that was put into place after the embarrassing debacle in New Orleans during the 2018 NFC Championship Game, the league is admitting that it failed to create and implement a functional system to help prevent such obvious miscalls from changing games.
In case you’d forgotten, this short clip from ABC News has the blown no-call from the Saints game from several angles. None leaves room for debate over the failure to flag this play.
Hurley provides multiple examples of key plays last season where obvious pass interference took place, but even after reviewing the footage, officials failed to make the call. In other instances, clean plays by defenders were wrongly flagged. Here’s just one example of the former phenomenon. No flag was thrown on this play even after it was reviewed.
Why wasn’t a flag thrown on that passing play? Because shut up, at least according to the refs.
NFL officials blow plenty of calls every week during the season because human beings aren’t perfect and some of the rules leave gray areas when it comes to judging whether an infraction has taken place. It’s long been argued that holding takes place on nearly every play of every game, but it’s up to the zebras as to if and when it’s obvious enough to throw a flag. But pass interference is the one area that attracts the most attention because of the severe and frequently game-changing harshness of the penalty. Instead of just five or ten yards, the ball is moved to the location of the infraction. In the case of a long, Hail Mary pass, that can advance the offense most of the way down the field.
But getting rid of the new rule isn’t the answer, as Hurley explains quite well. Rather than scrapping the rule, it should have been improved. (Or at least followed and properly used by the officials.) If the NFL wants an example of how to do this correctly, they should look to the play review policy adopted by the XFL this year. Any play is eligible for review by the officials. All of them are wearing microphones so fans can hear the deliberative process they go through when deciding if there was an infraction. And there’s a dedicated replay official up in the booth (also wearing a microphone and with a camera on them) so viewers can watch them review the replay angles and hear them talk through the process. That gives us a much more transparent system and refs who are more diligent because they know there are so many eyes on them.
Instead, we’re going to go back to the old system where one or two people are making the calls on the fly and there is no appeal to their decision. All this will do is result in more debacles like the Saints-Rams game and more angry fans flooding the NFL Network with complaints.