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Botched NFC title game call shows need for expanded review

If 10 million people sitting on their couches can make a more accurate call than the referees asked to officiate a championship game, something is wrong.

That was the case when Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly interfered/committed a helmet-to-helmet foul against New Orleans Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis on a play that — if called properly — would have sent the Saints to the Super Bowl.

It wasn’t a bang-bang play. It wasn’t a toss-up call. It was more obvious than Drew Pearson’s push-off against the Vikings in 1975. More obvious than Dez Bryant catching it against the Packers. Maybe even more obvious than the Saints attempting to injure Brett Favre in 2009.

Instead the no-call forced New Orleans into a field goal rather than giving them first-and-goal with the game tied at 20 and under two minutes remaining in the NFC title game and no timeouts for the Rams. Drew Brees could have kneeled down three times and New Orleans could have kicked a chip-shot field goal for the win.

But the botched call gave the Rams new life. They drove for a game-tying field goal and then won in overtime on a 57-yard kick.

There was no excuse. No explanation. ProFootball Talk reported after the game the league plans to admit the error — which is more than they usually do — and move forward.

It certainly wasn’t the only botch job by the refs on Sunday afternoon. They missed a clear facemask on Jared Goff as he attempted to run into the end zone on a drive that finished with a field goal and a personal foul in which a Saints player came in WWE style and landed on a Ram after the play.

How many more of these game-changing errors have to happen before the NFL admits it needs more assistance officiating these games?

Following the game, ESPN’s Kevin Siefert wrote in favor of expanding replay:

“The bottom line is that the NFL has the technology, capacity and now the urgent incentive to add pass interference to replay. The point would not be to re-judge close calls in slow motion. It would be to avoid precisely the debacle the NFL encountered Sunday. Put simply, this no-call almost certainly determined which team would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Careers and legacies were impacted.”

You know who agrees with Kevin? Bill Belichick.

In 2014, Belichick told WEEI radio that he wants to be able to challenge anything. He said:

“I’m not proposing more challenges. All I’m saying is, as a coach, if you want to challenge a play, I think you should be able to challenge it. And why does it have to be limited to, I don’t know, there’s four or five pages in the rules book of plays that can be challenged, and now this year there are more proposals to amend that probably because of one or two plays that happened in the league last year.”

It wouldn’t take adding more challenges for coaches, just give them more options on what to review. Judgement calls can still be judged on replay. Those officials in every TV booth now seem to be able to tell much better than the refs on the field whether calls are right when they see them from several different angles. Why not allow a key holding or interference to be double checked? The Robey-Coleman call would have been changed in about 30 seconds flat.

The NFL has made reactionary changes before. Last year before the Super Bowl, they quietly tweaked the catch rule. After Favre never got a chance to touch the ball in the ’09 title game, they changed overtime.

If the league really wants to get these things right, another reactionary move is needed.

PFT’s Mike Florio put it this way:

“If the league decides to act, the league will act like it has had some sort of awakening. The awakening should have come long before today’s outcome. But if today’s outcome prevents another one like it, maybe at some point it will have been worth it.”


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