NFL owners overwhelmingly approved a proposal that will allow both offensive and defensive pass interference calls to be reviewed by coaches and officials during the 2019 season, the first time ever that a penalty will be reviewable under league rules.

NFL pass interference rule
NFL coaches will now be able to challenge pass interference calls, including those in which a flag was not thrown on a play. (Image: Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports)

The proposal, which passed by a 31-1 margin, will also allow coaches to challenge calls they believed were missed even if a flag wasn’t thrown on the play.

Championship Game Gaffe Leads to New Rule

Support for the move was generated by a clear missed pass interference call in the final minutes of the NFC Championship Game in January. The call likely swung the outcome of the game, allowing the Los Angeles Rams enough time to tie the game and then win it in overtime 26-23, denying the New Orleans Saints the opportunity to advance to the Super Bowl.

“There was an owe-it-to-the-game responsibility,” Saints coach Sean Payton – also a member of the NFL’s competition committee – said after the vote. “I think it’s important that this isn’t going to be perfect always. We know that. The mere shape of the ball tells you it’s not going to bounce the same way. But these are fouls that the analysts are able to tell us they’re the most impactful fouls. I think we got it right.”

The most controversial aspect of the proposal was allowing non-calls to be challenged, with competition committee chairman Rich McKay saying several members were worried about giving anyone other than officials on the field the opportunity to call penalties. However, McKay told ESPN that those members had changed their minds on the issue prior to the vote.

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reported on Twitter that the Cincinnati Bengals were the one team to vote against implanting the new rule.

According to a report by ESPN, the competition committee admitted that a pass interference call was also missed late in the 2019 Super Bowl, when New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore should have been flagged for a foul on Brandin Cooks with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Rules Changes Include End of Blindside Blocks

Owners also approved other changes to the NFL rules for next season. The NFL’s replay command center in New York will now be allowed to eject players for flagrant fouls in addition to non-football acts such as fighting. More competitive tiebreakers will be used when determining draft order as well, rather than resorting to coin flips.

One of the most impactful changes could be the elimination of all blindside blocks, a move made to promote player safety.

“The blindside block, it ends careers,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent told reporters. “To have that removed out of our game, it is significant.”

Among the rejected changes this season were a proposal from the Denver Broncos to replace the onside kick with a fourth-and-15 play from the 35-year line, and one from the Kansas City Chiefs that would guarantee both teams at least one possession in overtime.

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