The NFC Championship Game ended with considerable controversy following a missed no-call on one of the more egregious defensive pass interference calls in recent memory. Add in a helmet-to-helmet hit in a season where that has been a point of emphasis, and it is baffling there was no flag.
This was the most obvious issue in Sunday’s game, but the Saints both benefited from bad officiating against the Rams and hurt themselves with some shockingly bad decisions on that final drive. The decision to throw on first and third down rather than run down the clock is something that I would think will haunt the Saints as well — albeit less than the missed DPI.
Saints decision-making aside, it really was an atrocious miss that is difficult to figure out. But if it just comes down to referees being human, there are ways to improve that inefficiency — and the NFL might be willing to finally give it real consideration this offseason.
The league is expected to, “give consideration this offseason to making pass interference calls subject to instant replay review” according to Washington Post reporter Mark Maske. A source told Maske it will be considered along with additional fouls coaches feel should be subject to review.
In the past, the Competition Committee has shot down increasing the use of replay for what they view as “judgment calls” like pass interference. One big difference this year might be that Sean Payton is a member of the competition committee. I wonder if he will push extra hard on this.
The Committee will present rule suggestions for the annual league meetings in March, at which point owners will vote on them, or decide to table them for later discussion. In the past, Bill Belichick has repeatedly proposed making everything reviewable. It has gotten nowhere, and I don’t expect much difference on that kind of expansion this year, but we might see the league slowly work in that direction.
The common complaint is that it will slow down the game. It would slow down the final two minutes of each half to some extent due to automatic reviews, but if teams retain the usual number of challenges, the timing of the rest of the game would probably not be impacted all that much more. We’d probably see more teams use all their challenges, but I don’t see a huge swing in game time because of that.
The NFL has changed rules regularly over the past 20 years to boost the passing game. I don’t know the numbers, but it would not surprise me to see a rise in DPI calls as passing has become a bigger part of the game — simply because of the volume involved. The Saints issue is simply a problem with human error, but in reality, the biggest issue with DPI is the automatic spot foul. Judgment calls are easy to mess up, and if it involves a 40-yard swing on the penalty, that’s kind of a huge deal. In many ways it can be a bigger deal than some turnovers.
I realize there will always be a human element with human referees, but it strikes me as lazy to use that as an excuse for not improving the quality of officiating. That can be done with some relatively modest changes to the replay rules, without drastically altering the state of the game.