New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick speaks to the media during the NFC/AFC coaches breakfast during the annual NFL football owners meetings, Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Phoenix. (Photo: AP)
Roger Goodell laid down the law, and the owners readily changed NFL rules on reviewing pass interference, whether flagged or not.
As the league concluded its spring meeting one day early, the owners passed by a shockingly overwhelming 31-1 margin that interference can be challenged by coaches and reviewed by officials next season.
Owners voted on a one-year trial basis to include those often-controversial penalties in the officiating replay review system. Coaches still will have two challenges per game, and in the final two minutes of a half or fourth quarter or for all of overtime, the replay official can order a review of offensive or defensive pass interference.
The major change — owners traditionally have been highly reluctant to include any penalties in the replay process — stems from an egregious missed call in the NFC championship game that likely led to the Rams making the Super Bowl and the Saints falling short.
“I told the owners we need to get to a place, and I felt strongly we should have OPI and DPI and that we should be able to throw flags (that were not thrown on the field,” Goodell said. “Everyone in there finally got to understand through a long process and a lot of discussion, everyone wanted to get it right. Some had to remove themselves from long-shared views.”
The competition committee, which recommends rules changes to the ownership, had been split 4-4 on adding interference penalties, particularly non-flagged ones, to replay. But they tweaked the proposal, and it remains part of the overall replay system, which was a critical component.
Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said the analytics also played a role in the rules change. Of the 50 most incorrect on-field calls as determined by officiating director Al Riveron and his staff that were impactful, half of them were for defensive pass interference.
“We felt this was a place to start,” McKay added. “There was a lot of discussion and definitely a block of people on the committee and in membership concerned about the ability to put a flag on. We got more comfortable as we worked it out that it would be captured in the replay system.”
It might have been a pyrrhic victory for Saints coach Sean Payton, a member of the competition committee, but he was a driving force in persuading many people such an alteration was needed.
“It’s great when we can arrive at what we think is a good change,” Payton said. “We wouldn’t have any of these on the docket had it not been for one play. I don’t think any of these would be on a replay discussion.
“So my point is, I think we need to do a better job thinking forward and preparing, regardless of what’s currently out there. Where do we want to be in 2028? It’s a good way to work and come backward. I think we do that in a lot of other things. But I feel like at times we come in here each year and we’re in a little bit in a reactionary mode.”
Not this time.
Earlier in the day, the NFL owners voted down a proposal to replace the onside kick with one play from scrimmage, and tabled a suggestion to require each team to have one possession in overtime regardless of what happened on the first series of the extra period.
Owners vetoed the idea of a one-year trial of a fourth-and-15 play from the offense’s 35-yard line to replace the onside kick, considered one of the game’s more dangerous plays. The powerful competition committee recommended the play by a vote of 7-1, but the owners were not swayed.
The overtime change is championed by several clubs after the AFC championship game in January — and the 2017 Super Bowl — ended with a Patriots touchdown without the opponent getting the ball. New England won the coin toss both times.
Currently, the format is a touchdown on the opening possession of OT ends the game, but a field goal allows the other team a series with the ball. If that team also kicks a field goal, the game continues.
Owners will next take up the overtime topic at their May meeting.
Approved on Tuesday:
— Making permanent all kickoff rules implemented only for the 2018 season. Studies showed this player safety initiative worked.
— Eliminating the blindside block in an effort to expand protection of a defenseless player. It is now a 15-yard penalty if a player initiates a block in which he is moving.
“As a former player and father of two that play ball, and having the opportunity to coach (youth football),” football operations chief Troy Vincent said, “this particular play, the blindside block, it ends careers, puts people on the shelf.
“That particular technique, I was taught that. To have that removed out of our game is significant.”
— Allowing teams to elect to enforce on an extra point kick or play an opponent’s personal or unsportsmanlike conduct foul committed during a touchdown.