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PI calls now reviewable, but ‘4th-and-15’ option dies on the table

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Despite NFL owners rejecting a replacement for the onside kick, they did agree the judgment call to beat all judgment calls can finally be questioned.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It’s a little late for the Saints to make their case for a Super Bowl bid, but thanks to one of the biggest referee blunders in a postseason NFL game that potentially changed the outcome, NFL owners overwhelmingly voted in favor of allowing pass interference calls - and non-calls - to be reviewable on replay.

On a one-year trial, the new rule says coaches can challenge pass interference up until the final two minutes of each half. Inside two minutes, officials in New York will make the decision on whether to review potential pass interference.

“Obviously the outrage with what happened in the Saints game made a cry for more replay and a broader scope what replay can review,” Broncos GM John Elway told Andrew Mason and Brandon Krisztal earlier this week ahead of the vote.

Cincinnati Bengals owner was the only “no” vote on the proposed change.

According to NFL.com, 24 of the 50 most impactful incorrect calls the past three seasons were defensive pass interference, and offensive pass interference was the most common non-call.

It was the now infamous non-call against Rams’ cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman during this year’s NFC Championship Game that spawned new dialogue on reviewing such judgment calls.

“There’s been a real reluctance of putting a foul on the field,” said Troy Vincent, NFL’s top football operations executive. “That is something from active players to coaches, all across football personnel.”

Elway, who had seemed reluctant in January to add PI to replay review because it would be impossible to review every call, seemingly had a change of heart - no doubt because of the continued limit of two challenges for coaches as well as the one-year trial.

Jess, Tim and I discussed the new rule on our podcast this week, and we all agree - anytime you eliminate the possibility that a game can result in Mark Sanchez throwing a Hail Mary that draws a PI call, which gives the Jets a 1st-and-goal with just over 1:30 left in a game, allowing them to go up 24-20 over the Broncos...it’s a good rule (though, that game being the beginning of the end of the Josh McDaniels era makes it bearable in hindsight).

4th-and-15 rejected (sad face)

But while owners were overwhelmingly in favor of instituting pass interference review, they were not all so hot on John Elway’s ideas for changes to the onside kick. The idea would be to allow a trailing team in the fourth quarter one opportunity to execute a 4th-and-15 play in lieu of an onside kickoff. But owners defeated the measure by a slim margin.

Elway was no doubt disappointed in the outcome since he had mentioned earlier he was excited about the opportunity to get rid of a very low percentage success play (the onside kick) with something that would allow teams the chance to compete.

“The idea came out of fact we’ve struggled the past years and have been behind in the 4th quarter,” he admitted, adding that onside kick recoveries by the kicking team have decreased from 14 percent success to 7 percent - in half - thanks to new kickoff rules.

“I think there were four of 52 recovered last year, so at least 4th-and-15 gives teams a chance to pick up a first down and get back in the football game,” he added. “If trying to do it through the onside kick, it’s very, very difficult with the new rules. I’m excited about it.”

Unfortunately, 23 other owners (need 24 of 32 to pass) weren’t as excited about it enough to try it out - which is a huge bummer because what fun could that option add to a game?

As the analytics show, an onside kick is practically never going to help a team that is behind make a run at winning. And what is the harm in 4th and 15 from a team’s own 35-yard line? It’s not like a first down is a sure thing, and even if the team converts, it still has to go practically the whole field to score. Finally, if the team fails to convert, the opponent gets the ball back in excellent field position.

Although we don’t know which teams voted against the change, I’m willing to bet Patriots owner Robert Kraft was one of them. How often has he experienced the anxiety of his team being behind at the end of the game? Probably not nearly as often as he is accused of soliciting prostitutes in a sex-trafficking ring at a Florida massage parlor.

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