NFL makes pass-interference calls (and noncalls) reviewable

Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman breaks up a pass intended for Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis that should have been a pass-interference call.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

The NFL took a big step forward with instant replay Tuesday, making pass interference reviewable even on plays in which a flag is not thrown.

The rule change, in place for one season on a trial basis, evolved out of an officiating mistake in January’s NFC championship game between the Rams and New Orleans Saints. The play in question was a blatant pass interference by the Rams that wasn’t called, leaving the Saints feeling robbed of a chance to get to the Super Bowl.

Despite that play aiding his Rams, coach Sean McVay had said earlier in the day that he would be OK with such a rule change.


“Yeah, I think whatever we can do to continue to clean up the integrity of the game as far as not missing clear-cut things,” he said. “And I think the big thing that’s been about it, obviously we all know we’re talking about Nickell Robey[-Coleman’s] play against the Saints. That was a play that worked in our favor, but we’re not going to sit here and say when you go back and watch it that it wasn’t defensive pass interference.”

The competition committee also discussed a play in the Super Bowl, where the Rams’ Brandin Cooks was unable to hold on to a potential touchdown pass with 4:17 to go. The committee said the play should have been ruled pass interference, according to a person in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and the Rams would have been given a first down on the one-yard line.

The New England Patriots, who were leading 10-3, intercepted a Jared Goff pass on the next play.

“Anything that’s progressive in terms of just making sure that we officiate the game the way that it’s worded in the rule book and can stay within those frameworks is exactly what we all want as coaches,” McVay said.

Coaches still will get two challenges per game — one is restored if the first two are successful — and can contest a call at any time except after the two-minute warning of each half or in overtime, when the replay official takes control.

“Everybody wanted to get it right,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “There are just different ways of approaching that. Some people had to remove themselves from long-held views in understanding that the big picture was to get it right.”


Not everyone agrees with the rule change, though, including new Rams safety Eric Weddle, who tweeted: “Dumbest decision ever!!!!”

The first 28 minutes of each half it’s a coaches’ challenge, and the final two minutes of each half it’s a booth review, in part because the league didn’t want coaches using a challenge on a Hail Mary. Offensive and defensive pass interference are subject to review, and the replay official initiates the process.

The proposal passed by a 31-1 vote, with the only no vote coming from the Cincinnati Bengals. The annual meetings concluded with the vote, ending a session that was expected to last until midday Wednesday.

“We wouldn’t have any of these on the docket had it not been for one play,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Tuesday morning, before the afternoon vote. “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?”

Even though there were missed calls in the conference championship game that would have benefited the Rams, Payton said the specter of the non-call lingers.

“Every Uber you get in or every Lyft driver you’re with, someone will look in the rearview mirror or turn around and there’s that ‘I feel so bad for you,’ ” he said. “That happened 150 times so far this offseason.”


Kicked down the road

So much for the funky alternative to onside kicks. NFL owners rejected a proposal by Denver to allow a team — once, and only in the fourth quarter — to try to convert a fourth-and-15 from its 35-yard line in lieu of an onside kick. Seven of the eight members of the competition committee were in favor of the change.

“One of the things is the unintended consequences that we still have to work out,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said.

He suggested a scenario in which a team scores to take the lead in the waning seconds, then, instead of kicking off, that team opts to go with the alternative to an onside kick. The quarterback takes the snap, runs around to burn off the remaining seconds, then throws a pass out of bounds to end the game.

“We’ve got to look at what the spirit of the rule is, and how to be able to use it, rather than teams being able to skirt it,” he said.

Blazing trails


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made history last week, hiring two women as assistant coaches. (No staff has had more than one.) Coach Bruce Arians explained his philosophy on the topic.

“It’s time,” he said. “I’ll be happy when it’s not news anymore. That’s where it should be heading.”

Arians hired Maral Javadifar as the team’s assistant strength and conditioning coach, and Lori Locust as assistant defensive line coach. Locust coached the defensive line for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football League, and Javadifar was most recently a physical therapist in Seattle.

“They’re perfect fits for what we need,” said Arians, who previously hired a woman as a coaching intern when he was with the Arizona Cardinals. “The fact that their gender is different, who gives a …? They’re good coaches.”

He doesn’t anticipate any pushback from players.

“Every NFL player is going to look at you and say, ‘How can you make me better?’ ” he said. “If you have an answer, you’re in. If you can’t answer the question, you don’t belong in there anyway. [Locust and Javadifar] can answer the question.”

Arians added: “I think back to the best teachers I ever had, most of them are female. In football, we’re glorified school teachers. You can know all the football in the world, [but] if you can’t teach it … Why not take a great teacher of any gender and let them help your players?”


Getting defensive

There’s been a trend lately of teams hiring offensive head coaches, among them the Rams’ Sean McVay, the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson, Chicago’s Matt Nagy, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan, Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury, and Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor.

Makes a defense-minded head coach such as Denver’s Vic Fangio feel a little outnumbered.

“Football is a trending sport,” said Fangio, most recently defensive coordinator for the Bears. “It always has been, it always will. Probably the most successful head coaches over time, going back to the ’60s and ’70s, were defensive coaches. We’ll get back there some day.”

Fangio was asked if the most recent Super Bowl result — New England 13, Rams 3 — validated the need for strong defensive play.

“I don’t know about validate, but I remember when the Rams and Chiefs had that, what was it, 54-51 game?” he said of last season’s game. “A couple of other high scores were around the same time. My weekly press conference in Chicago, I got hit with all of that. ‘Is this the way football is going?’ I told them no.

“Then we played the Rams, I don’t know how long after that, and we beat them 15-6. Three of those points they got the ball on the five-yard line to start. I went in and asked them all if that was the new trend.”


Extra points

The NFL has banned blindside blocks. … Owners tabled until May a proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs to change overtime. The proposal would guarantee both teams an overtime possession (even if the first team scores a touchdown on its opening possession), and would eliminate overtime in exhibition games.

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

Sign up for our daily sports newsletter »


Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer