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The NFL’s new pass interference replay rule, explained

"I don't know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference call," Saints HC Sean Payton said following last year's NFC Championship game. (Getty)

The NFL Thursday finalized a new rule that would make pass interference a reviewable play for the 2019-2020 season only, a decision that stemmed from the controversial end to the 2018 NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.

What does the new rule entail? ESPN’s Kevin Seifert joined John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle Thursday to explain the ruling, how it’s supposed to work, and how the league can avoid the disaster of too many game stoppages.

The rule

The Competition Committee this week finalized the ruling, which was originally approved by owners in March. The rule states:

“After the two-minute warning in each half, and during an overtime period, the Replay Official will stop the game to initiate a replay review for pass interference under stricter criteria/guidelines than is applicable for other reviewable play types. The rationale for the stricter criteria is to prevent excessive game clock stoppages for a foul that involves a greater degree of subjectivity than other reviewable plays. Accordingly, the Replay Official will stop the game when there is clear and obvious visual evidence that a pass interference foul may or may not have occurred, based on viewing the play live or any initial available line feed views.” – Via the official website for NFL Operations

What does it mean?

Unlike scoring plays and plays involving possession, pass interference was not subject to replay review prior to this season. It’s now subject to the same replay review rules, meaning each team is permitted two challenges that will initiate the review.

“Pass interference calls and non-calls can now be challenged by coaches up until the two minute mark of each half and in overtime,” Seifert explained. “After which the replay official can stop the game to review any potential pass interference calls or non-calls, just as they are for all other reviewable calls.”

The rule wasn’t without criticism.

“The concern is, understandably, that the replay official is going to stop the games a lot, especially when you’re in a two minute drill and there’s a lot of passing and there’s going to be contact; on Hail Mary’s, there’s going to be contact, and the last thing you want is for what’s probably the most exciting portion of the game to be stopped after every play to see if there was any pass interference and whether it rises to the occasion of calling or changing a call,” Seifert said.

“Some of the Competition Committee members wanted the coaches to retain the responsibility for challenging only pass interference during that two minute mark just to keep the stoppages to a limit. But the coaches pushed back on that and they didn’t want to have to adjust their timeout strategy… so in the end, they’re going to stay with what they planned. They will still in theory have Hail Mary’s be reviewable… but I think the expectation is that it will be very rare, if ever, that a replay official will force a review of a Hail Mary play this season.”

For now, the rule is only in effect for the 2019-20 season. Seifert said there’s a possibility the rule could stick if game stoppages don’t get out of hand.

“If you really, really find a way to stick to only overturning clear and obvious mistakes, nothing short of just embarrassingly awful mistakes, then it could work. And I think if they somehow figure out how to maintain that line… then I think it’s got a chance.”

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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