NFL Might Only Keep Pass Interference Review Changes for 2019-20 Season

Referee Walt Anderson (66) signals from the field during an NFC wild-card NFL football game between the Seattle Seahawks ad Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019.(AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

Roger Steinman/Associated Press

The NFL is allowing reviews on pass interference calls and non-calls starting in the 2019 season, though it may not extend beyond that. 

According to the NFL Football Operations, the league’s competition committee voted to only enact the changes for next season, meaning it could be a one-and-done rule change based upon its positive or negative effect.

In March, the NFL owners voted to have pass interference calls and non-calls reviewable, which would include coaches being able to use their challenges on such plays and the replay booth handling any close calls in the last two minutes of each half and in overtime. 

It passed by a 31-1 vote.

While pass interference calls have long been a point of contention, given how subjective they can be, the issue became a major controversy during the NFC Championship Game, when Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly hit New Orleans Saints wideout Tommylee Lewis before the pass reached him on a crucial third-down attempt in the fourth quarter.

Despite the clear pass interference, no call was made. Had pass interference been called, the Saints could have run down the clock before attempting a game-winning field goal. Instead, they kicked the field goal immediately and the Rams had enough time left on the clock to kick their own game-tying field goal before winning in overtime.

“We think it was a good change,” Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters in March about the rule change. “We’re trying to address the two fouls that most impact games. … The last three years coaches are being a little bit more judicious with their challenges. I think that will continue especially the minor fact that you now have a more meaningful play you can challenge.”

While this is universally seen as a good change, it doesn’t alter the fact that interference calls include a certain level of subjectivity. That will even extend to the replay officials, who may all have slightly different ideas of what constitutes a clear and obvious interference call.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noted, the above play represents the sort of judgment calls that could remain controversial, even with replay:

“Would the replay official have concluded based on the real-time play and full-speed replay review that the officials clearly and obviously missed [Mike] Williams shoving [Kendall] Fuller away, as Fuller was interfering with Williams? Maybe the replay official would have seen it, maybe the replay official wouldn’t have seen it. The replay official and the replay assistant will have to make those decisions quickly.”

As he added, the uncalled interference on Williams wasn’t nearly as obvious as Robey-Coleman’s blatant transgression. So while adding replay review on interference calls is an obvious plus, it won’t alleviate all controversy when it comes to these types of judgement calls.

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