By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
It took a historic officiating error for the NFL to consider what would be one of the most significant rule changes in the modern era. It’s a step toward a potential change that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick first proposed years ago.
According to a new report by Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the league’s competition committee will consider granting officials the ability to review pass interference penalties with instant replay. The discussion will come in the wake of the ending to the NFC Championship Game between the Rams and Saints, in which cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman committed interference on Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis. The flag never came out, and the Rams eventually won 26-23 in overtime.
Robey-Coleman admitted after the game that he was trying to take an intentional flag in order to prevent a touchdown, and the league quickly admitted to Saints head coach Sean Payton that the officials erred in not flagging Robey-Coleman on the play. In short, it’s perhaps the most controversial officiating mistake in NFL history.
The play could’ve been reviewed and officiated properly if the NFL had simply listened to Belichick at any point in the last five years.
It’s unclear when Belichick first started lobbying for a sweeping rule change regarding challenges and reviews, but it first became public in 2014. Belichick’s proposal is more sweeping and radical. He argued on SiriusXM that coaches should be able to challenge any play they want, which would obviously include penalties or non-calls.
“Whatever it happens to be, it wouldn’t give the coach any more challenges. It would just give him a chance to challenge a play he thought was ruled incorrectly,” said Belichick (via USA Today). In the grand scheme of things, I think what we all want is to get the play right and for the best team to win and for the game not to be decided by a missed call. To not have the opportunity to correct that type of play, it just doesn’t seem like it’s the right way to do it.”
Rule 15, Article 2, Section 4 of the 2018 NFL rulebook contains a list of non-reviewable plays. The only penalty that can be subject to replay review is 12 men on the field. Any other flag or non-flag can’t be challenged. Other non-reviewable plays include:
— The spot of the ball when unrelated to a turnover, first down, goal line play, forward progress being stopped, or runner giving himself up
— Field goals that cross above the uprights
— Erroneous whistles
— Spot of the ball when crossing out of bounds through the air
— Whether players were blocked into loose balls
— Illegal advancement by a player after a fair catch signal
— Whether a certain player caused the ball to go into the end zone
It’s an important distinction that Belichick is talking about challenges. He’s not saying that every single play should go to review to make sure it was called properly. He just wants coaches to be able to use their challenge flags on any play they want.
If Belichick had his way, Payton would’ve been able to challenge that his player got interfered with, and he would’ve won. Whether the Saints would have then won the game will forever be a mystery, but there’s no question that the egregious non-call altered the outcome of the game regardless of what happened afterward.
The biggest losers in this whole thing? The Saints, easily. The mistake can’t be undone, and they had to be the team sacrificed in order to spur the NFL into preventing such mistakes from happening again. Belichick is a winner, though. He’s one step closer to getting the rule change he wants.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.