NFL owners vote, make pass interference reviewable by replay

Nickell Robey-Coleman has officially changed the NFL.

The Rams cornerback was the impetus for a new rule approved Tuesday at the league’s annual meeting that will allow coaches and officials to challenge missed pass interference calls in 2019. The reform comes a little more than two months after Robey-Coleman’s blatant pass interference in the NFC title game was blanked by officials, paving the way for a Los Angeles Super Bowl bid.

What is the new pass interference replay rule?

Coaches will be able to throw their challenge flag and initiate a review when they feel officials have missed a clear pass interference penalty on the field or called a pass interference penalty on a clean play. Like any other challenge, they’ll be permitted two per game, though winning each would grant a third. A review that’s not overturned will cost the challenging team a timeout, and teams cannot force a challenge if they have no timeouts left in the half.

All reviews will be initiated from the replay booth in the final two minutes of either half.

It’s a reform that would have had a major impact on 2019’s playoff games. Not only would a reviewable Robey-Coleman hit have given the Saints the chance to salt away an NFC Championship Game victory in New Orleans, but a missed call in Super Bowl 53 would have given the Rams their best scoring opportunity of the low-scoring game.

Has the NFL ever done something like this before?

Nope. The new pass interference challenge system will be the first penalty made reviewable by officials. The change came after hours of debate among coaches at the NFL’s Annual Meeting, led by veteran standbys Bill Belichick and Andy Reid. That group then kicked up unanimous approval to the league’s owners, who debated the change before passing it by a 31-1 margin — only Bengals head Mike Brown voted against the measure.

The rule change could have had an even wider sphere of influence. Other proposals regarding the expansion of replay included making roughing the passer and defenseless player fouls reviewable as well. While those failed to gain traction, coaches and owners across the league appeared pleased with the result — especially in New Orleans.

“There was an owe-it-to-the-game responsibility,” head coach Sean Payton, who lobbied for the reform, told the press after it passed Tuesday. “I think it’s important that this isn’t going to be perfect always. We know that. The mere shape of the ball tells you it’s not going to bounce the same way. But these are fouls that the analysts are able to tell us they’re the most impactful fouls. I think we got it right.”

What other rule changes were approved at the annual meeting?

There were several other proposals that earned approval, though none as impactful as the ability to challenge pass interference calls and non-calls.

  • The 2018 kickoff rule changes, which made wedges illegal and prevents the kicking team from getting a running start, were made permanent.
  • Crackback blocks were deemed illegal in all phases of the game.
  • The league’s replay office in New York now has dominion to eject players for excessive hits.
  • Teams now have the option to choose whether to assess the yardage following a personal foul or unsportsmanlike penalty flag following a touchdown on the extra point or on the ensuing kickoff.
  • And competitive tiebreakers will now be used in place of simple coin flips for determining draft order.

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