On Tuesday night, the NFL owners voted to expand instant replay to include both called and uncalled pass-interference penalties. Thirty-one owners voted in favor of the change. The competition committee was unanimous in its support. All 32 coaches were in favor of an improved replay system in some form.
Two months after the officials missed a blatant pass-interference penalty to help send the Rams to the Super Bowl over the Saints, the league almost unanimously agreed to make a change to prevent such a mistake from happening again.
But it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that a couple players aren’t happy about the development. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that both players are defensive backs.
Not long after news of the newly ratified rule broke, 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman and Rams safety Eric Weddle — two players who could be Hall-of-Fame bound when their careers are over — voiced their displeasure with the rule on Twitter.
It started when the always outspoken Sherman said, “Sounds about right. One sided game. One sided review.”
Weddle replied by calling the new rule “Dumb dumb dumb.”
Sherman then followed up on his previous tweet, explaining that he’s worried the NFL “can control the outcome as they see fit” because “every defendable pass looks like PI in slow motion.”
Weddle, who also called it the “Dumbest decision ever!!!!”, agreed with Sherman.
They’re not entirely wrong. Similar to how a slow-motion replay of a completed pass can make what initially appeared to be (at full speed) a routine catch look like a slight bobble, it’s not difficult to envision an incomplete pass in the final two minutes going uncalled until an automatic review slows down the play significantly and finds a bit of contact between two jostling players that went unnoticed at normal game speed.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to become a problem. But the potential for a problem is certainly there.
To be clear, the rule was enacted in a direct response to the blatant missed call in the NFC Championship Game. Even Nickell Robey-Coleman, who committed what should’ve been pass interference, admitted after the game that he got away with one. Nobody — not even Sherman or Weddle — could argue that this is just a case of slowing down instant replay to make a clean play look like pass interference.
It’s the very definition of pass interference. It’s the kind of missed call that this new rule will fix.
Interestingly enough, the competition committee also admitted that they missed a pass-interference call in the Super Bowl — a penalty that would’ve been flagged under the new replay review, which would’ve seriously changed the outcome of the game, which the Patriots won. Instead of throwing an interception on the next play, the Rams would’ve been on the verge of scoring a touchdown if the new replay rule had existed during the Super Bowl:
It might be pass interference by the letter of the law, but there’s no doubt that if a play like that were to go uncalled on the field and then got flagged after a review, it would generate controversy. Plays like that might be what Sherman and Weddle are concerned about, though Sherman seems to be saying that he thinks the league will purposely side with the offense over the defense. This isn’t the first time he’s criticized the NFL for choosing offense over defense.
It’s worth noting that both offensive and defensive pass-interference are reviewable under the new rule, and that the rule will be evaluated in a year. If it goes poorly, it might not survive to see the 2020 season.
It’s also worth noting that because coaches still only have two challenges, they’re probably not going to waste a challenge on pass interference unless it’s at least somewhat obvious — most of the time, anyway. It’ll be an entirely different story in the final two minutes of the half regarding what the league deems worthy of a review.
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