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Replay official will become key figure in replay review of pass interference

Automatic review of pass interference penalties seems likely to remain in the final two minutes of each half, and Mike Florio and Chris Simms decide whether that will suffice.

The March solution to the Rams-Saints outcome from January created a major problem for the league, specifically in the final two minutes of either half, in overtime, after a touchdown, or after a turnover. With replay review available for pass interference calls and non-calls, and with a fairly low standard for activating automatic replay review, the rule change sets the stage for a rash of automatic reviews.

In all situations, a ruling on the field is overturned only if replay review finds clear and obvious evidence of an error. Under current rules, the replay official calls for an automatic replay review in the absence of clear and obvious evidence that the ruling on the field was correct. For pass interference calls and non-calls, which typically entail plenty of hand-fighting and other contact between receiver and defender, this creates a potentially broad range of plays that would be subject to automatic replay review, but that would not be overturned.

So here’s where the application of the new rule is heading, per a source with direct knowledge of the discussions: The replay official will apply a higher standard for determining when to activate automatic replay review in cases of offensive or defensive pass interference, called and not called.

The current plan (subject to change) is that the replay official, working with the in-booth replay assistant, will make a decision as to whether a clear and obvious error occurred in a case of pass interference, called or uncalled. If they see a clear and obvious error, based only on the real-time play and/or full-speed replays, they will activate an automatic replay review. The replay official and the replay assistant won’t employ the kind of slow-motion, frame-by-frame assessments that currently are used by the in-stadium replay booth to determine, for example, whether a receiver gets two feet inbounds after making a catch. The replay official and the replay assistant will have only full-speed replays available for the assessment of whether pass interference did or didn’t happen.

So, basically, the replay official becomes the primary gatekeeper for automatic replay review of pass interference. Before the replay official sends the play to New York for a full-blown review regarding whether the video contains clear and obvious evidence of a mistake, the replay official must preliminarily conclude that clear and obvious evidence of a mistake exists -- based only on the real-time play or full-speed review of it.

This approach limits the number of stoppages for replay review while also providing the element that was missing in Rams-Saints: Someone who can act on a clear and obvious error made by the on-field officials, when a blatant incident of pass interference occurred. It also protects NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron from, well, NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron, restricting the situations in which he would be scrutinizing every nook and cranny of the screen for evidence that the ruling on the field may have been incorrect. (Those situations may still happen, if/when a coach throws the red challenge flag. But those situations won’t happen in situations where automatic review is available.)

This approach also makes irrelevant the question of when and if Hail Mary plays will be subject to replay review. As the source explained it, separate Hail Mary rules become necessary only if replay review at the end of the first half or at the end of the game is driven by the red-flag challenge mechanism. The procedure for initiating automatic replay review will apply to all passes thrown during the windows for automatic review; if on a Hail Mary pass the replay official sees clear and obvious evidence of a blown call or non-call of pass interference, the replay official will call for a full-blown replay review.

Basically, the NFL will be adopting the video official/sky judge concept for pass interference. Instead of talking directly to the referee, however, the video official/sky judge (i.e., the replay official) will alert Riveron as to an egregious OPI or DPI call or non-call. Riveron then will review the visual evidence and, if the mistake is clear and obvious, fix the ruling on the field.

It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s the best one the NFL has identified to date. The last two minutes of either half won’t entail multiple replay reviews, and protection will be put in place for those situations where a defensive back wipes out a receiver and the on-field officials fail to see it.