PHOENIX — NFL owners resoundingly approved a measure Tuesday to expand instant replay to include offensive and defensive pass interference calls … and non-calls. It is the first time in league history that judgment calls by officials on penalties will be subject to review.
The vote was 31-1, with the Bengals the only team to vote against the proposal.
Under the new plan, which was passed for the 2019 season but could become a permanent rule change as soon as next year, coaches can challenge pass interference calls as part of the replay challenge system. Coaches can also challenge plays on which interference is not called, but that should have been flagged. In the final two minutes of each half, a replay can be called for by the instant replay official at each game.
A non-call from last season’s Rams-Saints NFC Championship Game was the impetus for the change. With less than two minutes to play and the score tied at 20, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman made contact with wide receiver Tommylee Lewis before Drew Brees’ pass arrived. No penalty was called, and the Saints settled for a field goal. The Rams tied the game at 23, to send it into overtime and won it on a field goal in the extra session.
The NFL withstood withering scrutiny over the non-call, prompting commissioner Roger Goodell to eventually try and convince owners to add pass interference into the replay challenge system. He also said other penalties — such as roughing the passer and hits on a defenseless player — could eventually be subject to review.
“I felt strongly that we should be able to throw flags in those [pass interference] situations,” Goodell told reporters late Tuesday at the conclusion of the league’s annual spring meetings. “I think you will see replay continue to evolve, but one of the foundations was the challenge system. I could see it expanding to other plays in the future.”
Rams coach Sean McVay, who benefited from the non-call in the NFC title game, said he is in favor of expanding replay to non-calls on pass interference.
"Whatever we can do to clean up the integrity of the game as far as not missing clear-cut things," McVay said at a coaches breakfast before the owners' vote. "We all know we’re talking about Nickell-Robey’s play against the Saints. That was a play that worked in our favor, but we’re not going to sit here and say when we go back and watch it that it wasn’t defensive pass interference. We all know that. We want consistency with some of those things."
Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said the league chose to address “the most impactful incorrect calls” in the game. He said half of those calls last year that were ruled incorrectly occurred on pass interference calls and non-calls.
“We are mindful of unintended consequences,” McKay said. “Our feeling was let’s walk, jog, run. Let’s start with the biggest boulders [involving pass interference]. Do I think that you’re going to see people [push for] expansion of replay in the future? I would be naive to say they won’t.”
The league also passed rules restricting blindside blocks to cut down on injury rates. The blocks are initiated when a player is moving toward his own end line and makes forcible contact to an opponent with his helmet, forearm or shoulder.
“The blind side block ends careers,” said former cornerback Troy Vincent, the NFL’s director of operations. “It puts people on the shelf. To have that removed from our game is significant.”