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IT’S been roughly eight months since that ill-fated NFC Championship game — winners go to the Super Bowl — where Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman as good as assaulted Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis which was missed by the referees and arguably settled the result in the favour of the Rams.
This led in the off-season to a rule change in the NFL whereby pass interference can be challenged by the coaches and so reviewed by referees for infringement.
Pass interference is basically how it sounds — any illegal action by the receiver or defender, such as a grab or pull, which results in their opponent being unfairly kept from making a play for the ball.
I spoke to ex-NFL vice-president of officiating and current Fox Sports analyst Dean Blandino about the changes.
“I’m taking a wait and see position, I don’t think it’s going to be the end of the world, but when you open things up to subjective calls there’s going to be debate,” he said.
This is certainly what fans expected. We thought there would suddenly be challenged calls all over the place due to a general understanding that there is probably holding on most plays, but the referees simply try and let minor infringements go for the benefit of a less disjointed game.
In pre-season, though, we saw very few challenged plays, and those which were challenged were on the whole not changed on replay, leading to speculation that referees did not want the game’s leaders to make this change and were rejecting it as a group.
Blandino had said: “I think people have to understand that if they are looking for the ‘clear and obvious’ [offences] there will be calls made on the field which aren’t going to be changed.”
Week one of the NFL season saw two major pass interference challenges, the first when the referees did not throw a flag on San Francisco 49ers defender Richard Sherman for an obvious pull on Tampa Bay Buccanners wide out Mike Evans, this was overturned because, as Blandino suggests, the infringement was “clear and obvious.”
The second was a pass interference penalty challenged by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as he did not feel there was foul play.
The commentary team felt that defensive back Tre Flower had made an excellent play on the ball, but the referees did not overturn the call.
Officiating in the NFL is a subject that will run and run, probably for some years yet. Everything cannot be reviewable, and we wouldn’t want it to be — breaking up the game, making it five hours just isn’t viable, a happy medium will be found soon.
Week one highlights were plentiful, we saw the No 1 pick in the draft pull of an amazing fourth-quarter comeback, the defending champs show their class and one of the most talked-about young teams of the last few years fall flat on their face.
Quarterback Kyler Murray was picked first by the Arizona Cardinals, with their new coach quickly turning his back on last years No 1 pick Josh Rosen.
Murray had not shown much in pre-season but with very little to show through the first three quarters, Murray led the Cards on a last-minute drive eight points down, scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion to secure a 27-27 tie, after an exciting overtime period.
While Murray flashed potential, the 16-year veteran Larry Fitzgerald helped immensely with crucial catches throughout, he will be so important to Murray’s development.
Meanwhile defending champions New England Patriots took little time in demolishing a highly rated Pittsburgh Steelers.
Up 20-0 at half time, quarterback Tom Brady looked every bit the ageless quarterback he has always been, finding seven different receivers on his way to 341 yards and three touchdowns.
In Cleveland, the Browns come into 2019 to huge fanfare, quarterback Baker Mayfield had an incredible rookie season but was made to look quite ordinary by the Tennessee Titans pass rush.
The Browns may have made a huge splash trading for star receiver Odell Beckham Jnr from the New York Giants, but if the offensive line can’t keep Mayfield upright then they are going to struggle.
The Titans went on to win 43-13 and look a contender in the AFC South.
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