By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL could mess up a bowl of Easy Mac.
After every football fan in the world witnessed an atrocious case of awful officiating in the NFC title game, the powers that be set out to fix that problem by … not addressing it at all, in any way, shape, or form.
As the NFL goes, that’s entirely on brand. Take accountability for failure by … ignoring the issue, creating something else, moving on, and hoping everyone else ignores the problem. It works 10 times out of 10, so why stop now?
On Thursday night, the NFL distributed 2019 rules proposals to media. Included among them was a proposal to expand instant replay. Again, considering the defining call of the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans was inexplicably missed by every official on the field, one might reasonably assume that this proposal would work as a measure to fix that exact scenario.
One would be wrong.
Here are proposals 6 and 6a:
6. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 2 for one year only to expand the reviewable plays in instant replay to include fouls for pass interference; also expands automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any Try attempt (extra point or two-point conversion).
6a. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 2 for one year only to expand the reviewable plays in instant replay to include all fouls for pass interference, roughing the passer, and unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture; also expands automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any Try attempt (extra point or two-point conversion).
What those proposals seek to accomplish is to allow head coaches to throw a challenge flag when officials on the field call pass interference (proposal 6) or when officials on the field call pass interference, roughing the passer, or unnecessary contact against a defenseless player (proposal 6a).
What those proposals don’t seek to accomplish is to allow head coaches to throw a challenge flag when the officials on the field egregiously miss an obvious call. Like, say, just for example, something like this:
That is, after all, why this matter is being dissected and considered, isn’t it? Alas, such a scenario shall not be improved upon, because, meh, well, you see … because the NFL doesn’t feel like it.
Adding to the excellence of this year’s rules proposals, it appears as though there will be no efforts made to add a “sky judge,” or an official watching from a box above the field to help out the on-field officiating crew in instances such as the missed pass interference penalty in New Orleans. (Again, that’s just one random example.)
NFL.com’s Judy Battista explained Thursday why we’re unlikely to see the creation of a sky judge.
“It seems like that has not generated a whole lot of enthusiasm, though, I was told by a member of the competition committee,” Battista said. “They just don’t love that. It would be complicated. One big question would be, where would you get those extra officials from? That wasn’t clear.”
Let’s run that explanation back once more, for those who weren’t paying attention.
Excuse No. 1: It would be complicated.
Oh. It would be complicated? Well then never mind. Nothing worth doing has ever had complications before. Totally understandable to not want to wade into those waters. Complicated? My God. No thank you.
Excuse No. 2: Where would you get those extra officials from?
See, this one, this problem here, I sat and I thought about it long and hard. I sat there, and like Winnie The freaking Pooh, I tap-tap-tapped my forehead, hoping — PRAYING — for an answer to materialize out of thin air. And guess what? Nothing. Not one single answer. Not one single solution to the issue of finding human beings to work a specific job. You see, that job doesn’t currently exist, so … how could it ever possibly be filled?
Massive issues, those two things. Totally understandable that the league is unable to enact a sky judge in 2019. Based on those issues, they might never be able to make it happen. What a shame. Just. Too. Complicated.
Perhaps the best part of the instant replay rule proposals is that regardless of what changes are instituted, nobody will be happy. That’s a guarantee.
For evidence, look only at the other conference championship game from this past season. In that game, a ticky-tack penalty was called on Kansas City’s Chris Jones for “roughing the passer.” The penalty turned what would have been a third-and-7 at the New England 28-yard line into a first-and-10 at the New England 43-yard line; the Patriots ended up marching to the end zone to take a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
It’s debatable at best that the Patriots wouldn’t have done that anyway, as Kansas City’s defense forced just two punts in 65 minutes of football. Nevertheless, it’s a call that has left fans in Kansas City and beyond steaming. They are red-hot, rip-roaring mad about it. And with good reason, sure. Look at this thing:
As the inestimable Jim Gray would say, “We don’t need that namby-pamby B.S.!” Right? Right!
Well, maybe we do though.
Let’s say the new rule proposal were to have been approved and put into place prior to this game — a shadow enactment of new rules, sort of like the new catch rule was put into place without officially getting approval prior to Super Bowl LII. And let’s say Andy Reid felt like chucking his red challenge flag on this one. So let’s say the play went to replay review. Would it have been overturned?
Probably not. Maybe.
IIIIIIIII don’t know Jiiiiiiiimmmmmmmmmm!!!!!
According to the rulebook, it is a foul for roughing the passer if a defender hits the quarterback “forcibly in the head or neck area.”
It’s an interesting word.
Certainly, a full-on chop from a 6-foot-6, 310-pound D-lineman would provide enough force to be considered “forcible.” But did the majority of that contract actually transfer to the quarterback’s head/neck area via his facemask? Hard to tell. The replay clearly shows Brady flinch by closing his eyes and moving his head backward ever-so-slightly after the hand swiped across his facemask. The contact clearly impacted Brady’s ability to throw the football.
But was it forcible? And would a look at one replay, or 10 replays, or 89 replays — would that provide the clear answer?
More likely than not, in a game that was already delayed far too long due to excessive replay reviews (remember when we spent 47 minutes looking at replays when none showed a football touching Julian Edelman’s fingers?), it feels as though this call would have stood. And I’m sure everyone would have handled that one with a reasoned, calm response.
Before we wrap up, we ought to look back at one more nightmare scenario that would create confusion, disarray, and disorder on NFL fields even if these new magical rules were to be enacted.
Think back to 2013. Monday Night Football. Patriots. Panthers. Great game! Cam Newton had that scramble where he pantsed Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, and Dane Fletcher on one single play. Steve Smith and Aqib Talib in a heavyweight bout. Rob Gronkowski dragging several humans with him around the field. Great game.
But as we all know, it ended in controversy, as Luke Kuechly wrapped up Gronkowski in the end zone as a pass was in the air and headed toward the hulking tight end.
Just like in the ’18 NFC Championship Game, this was an obvious case of pass interference. It was so obvious, in fact, that an official threw a flag on the play. For pass interference. Because that was what took place.
Alas, because the NFL loves late plot twists, referee Clete Blakeman picked up the flag, told the crowd and the national TV audience that there was no foul on the play (despite an official throwing a flag … for the foul … on the play), and said the game was over.
Tom Brady? He wasn’t happy, folks.
That scenario begs the question of how this new rule would play a role. Technically, a flag was thrown, so technically, under new rules, it would be subject to a challenge. And tack this one on: Because it occurred within the final two minutes of a half … would it be subject to automatic review? One would surmise that yes, it would.
A-ha, but, as you know, the referee decided to pick up the flag and pretend as though it had never been thrown.
If that were to happen with the new rules … can you even imagine the uproar that would follow? It’s frankly enough to probably make the competition committee folks throw up their hands and lament, “Bah! This is just way too confusing! Let’s grab lunch.”
There are, really, countless more examples of how this rule proposal fixes very little. If anything, it adds more layers of complication. And we know the competition committee fears complication. Think of all the phantom offensive pass interference penalties that get called on occasion. Think of all the pick plays. Watching replay reviews on challenges of those plays ought to be fun.
Think of all the missed defensive holding penalties that take place throughout the secondary in every game; these proposals set out to fix 0.0 percent of that problem, an issue which will only be magnified when pass interference penalties get the frame-by-frame HD replay treatment. Plus, if PI calls are reviewable, why aren’t defensive holding penalties? Those result in automatic first downs and are sometimes terrible calls. Alas, this round of fixes doesn’t set out to address that.
Missed facemask penalties? Not subject to review, for some reason. Incorrect facemask penalties? Not subject to review, for some reason. That’s 15 yards and a free first down swing, one way or the other.
Missed cases of an ineligible receiver downfield? Can’t review it, even if the play resulted in an 80-yard touchdown.
Blocks in the back that negate punt return touchdowns? Nope, it’s cast in stone. Was that roughing the kicker or running into the kicker? Hard to say. But the initial call stands.
Did that offensive tackle just clearly haul down the defensive end in the backfield, with not a single yellow flag flying? Well, we can’t be sure, but we’re going to soldier on.
And on and on and on. Plus, with the Brady-Jones roughing call serving as the best example, even putting these plays up for replay review won’t solve the problems that the competition committee believes it will.
It’s basically a half-measure. Either suck up your pride and admit that Bill Belichick was right in pushing for every play to be reviewable, or don’t do anything at all. This current proposed “solution” is no solution at all.