There needs to be a change. Everyone can see it. It’s as clear and obvious as a blatant pass interference call.
The ending of the Saints-Rams NFC Championship Game could be the impetus that increases the use of video replay in the NFL. Throughout the league’s history, rule changes have typically come about from glaring gaffes in big moments. The Raiders-Patriots game in 2001 gave us the repeal of the “tuck rule.” Calling heads or tails now occurs before the actual coin toss after the Phil Luckett mishap on Thanksgiving in 1998. The “horse collar” style of tackling was prohibited after Roy Williams used it to break Terrell Owens’s leg in a 2005 Eagles-Cowboys clash.
With the NFL openly acknowledging that the officiating crew missed both pass interference and a helmet-to-helmet hit on the 3rd and 10 play during the Saints’ final possession, a remedy is required. No, it wasn’t the only play of the game that contributed to the eventual Rams victory. But had it been called appropriately, the Saints could have run the clock down to roughly 20 seconds before kicking a go-ahead field goal from about 20 yards.
Instead, the Rams got the ball down three with 1:41 remaining and a timeout. They put together a nice drive and kicked the game-tying 48-yard field goal before eventually winning with a 57-yarder in overtime.
But it’s a cop out to suggest that judgment calls can’t be reviewed when the league also continuously acknowledges on Monday mornings that the officials used improper judgment. If they are saying it was clearly a mistake, why not make that statement in the moment when it can still be remedied, rather than 18 hours later when one team has already packed up its locker room and headed home for the offseason?
Officiating is hard and we should assume they are always trying their best. But a wide receiver whose cleat just barely clips the sideline on a catch that gets overturned by review was trying his best, as well. If the replay showed it wasn’t a catch, then that’s what the result should be.
There isn’t an easy fix but there are measures which can be taken. In the past, a play blown dead couldn’t result in a turnover, but they adjusted that to say that a clear recovery of the football would result in a change in possession even on a play that was incorrectly blown dead. There was an obvious need for that change and they made it in a logical manner.
If we already have a review official monitoring the action with all possible visual angles and replays, they should be able to buzz the on-field crew when a clear and obvious call is missed in a game-changing scenario. The refs can then go to the monitor to see for themselves and make the call using replay. Using an extra 60 seconds for that process is infinitely more desirable than having to admit a mistake the following day and leaving the world to wonder who should really be going to the Super Bowl.
Oh, while we’re at it, both teams should get the ball in overtime of a playoff game. I understand not wanting ties in regular season contests, but in games where ties are not possible outcomes, each team should be guaranteed a possession after four quarters of evenly played football.
We can call it the Brady rule.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.