It’s too late for the 2018 New Orleans Saints, who missed their shot at last year’s Super Bowl on a blown call. The NFC Championship was tied at 20 in the last two minutes, and the Saints faced third down deep in Rams territory. On the pass play, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman hit receiver Tommylee Coleman well before the ball arrived. It seemed like an obvious pass interference, except it wasn’t called. It also couldn’t be reviewed. The Saints kicked a field goal, which the Rams soon matched before winning in overtime.
It wasn’t a satisfactory outcome. A team seemed to make the Super Bowl on a blown call. Officiating, not football, was a focus of conversation. The NFL would like to avoid a repeat.
For the 2019 season, potential pass interference plays can be challenged and are review-able, given “clear and obvious visual evidence.” Replay will operate much as it has in previous seasons. Each teams will receive two challenge opportunities per game, with a third awarded should the first two challenges be successful. Within the last two minutes of each half, reviews, including those for potential pass interference plays, will only originate with the officials.
How will the challenge rule on pass interference affect the flow of the game? Former NFL player and Inside The NFL analyst Ray Lewis believes it will be worse. “I think anytime that you keep creating these rules that keep continually slowing the game down, you’re going to take the avid fan out of it,” according to Lewis.
As the thinking goes, the true NFL fan doesn’t need the game to be perfect, so long as it keeps its continuity. “The avid fan wants the game to go… but now with this pass interference rule, where you come in and say ‘I didn’t see that earlier, let me go back and find it,’ what do you mean? There’s no such thing. The play is gone.’
The Hall of Famer, who retired after the 2012 season, has seen it all. “Even for a person like me, who played the game, if I’m on the defensive side of the ball and you miss a call, or don’t call a call, or you think it’s great, then don’t call it. But to go back and address that, that’s going to kill the flow of a game.”
Beyond flow, Lewis sees potential problems with the length of games as well. “I think the fans will deal with it early. But you’re talking about taking a game from possibly three hours and 15 minutes to four hours and five minutes with calls like that.”
Will pass interference review ultimately be better or worse for the game? We’re about to find out, as the 2019 schedule — a season-long test of the rule — kicks off Thursday night.
You can catch Ray Lewis along with Phil Simms, Michael Irvin, Brandon Marshall and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.