Zulgad: NFL will need to throw a flag when challenges on judgment calls are lost

Everyone knows the officiating crew in the NFC championship game made an enormous blunder when the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman wasn’t called for pass interference late in the fourth quarter of Los Angeles’ victory over New Orleans. The question has been how is the NFL going to try to fix this so it doesn’t happen in the future?

Adam Schefter of ESPN appeared to have the answer on Wednesday when he reported the league is expected to consider a plan that would allow limited coaches’ challenges for incorrect judgment calls that also could include a penalty or time run off if the coach is wrong. Schefter wrote that an NFL source predicted the competition committee will figure out a way to get a rule like this passed, especially considering the blown call has the attention of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell, who had not publicly discussed the call, finally did so on Wednesday at his pre-Super Bowl press conference saying, “it’s a play that should be called.”

Goodell’s silence for more than a week after the Rams’ overtime victory over the Saints was curious — this was the type of call that would have been worth addressing almost immediately — but Goodell likely will make up for lost time and if he wants a rule changed it’s going to get changed.

We saw that during the 2010 NFL owners meetings, held months after the Saints beat the Vikings on a field goal on their first possession of overtime in the NFC title game. A proposal to change the rule so that a team could not win with a field goal on its opening possession of overtime seemed to have little momentum when team officials arrived for the meetings in Orlando, Fla. Even the Vikings weren’t interested in changing it.

But later in those meetings, with the majority of head coaches on the course for their annual golf outing, the rule was changed because Goodell wanted it changed. The feelings of the rest of the league, outside of the owners present for the vote, didn’t matter a bit.

That almost certainly will happen again here. The only question is what judgment calls will be able to be challenged? The best idea will be to tie some type of penalty into challenging a judgment call that goes beyond losing a timeout.

Obviously, the no call on Robey-Coleman’s early hit on Tommylee Lewis would have been changed if Saints coach Sean Payton could have challenged. But the last thing the NFL wants is having coaches routinely throwing challenge flags, and slowing down games, on the off chance they can get a close call overturned.

This rule would be put into place to fix egregious errors, such as the one at the Superdome. The NHL had an issue with this a few years back when it allowed offsides challenges after goals were scored. The threat of losing a 30-second timeout was a small price to pay, and thus coaches were more than happy to issue a challenge on a play that might have been offsides.

The league fixed this issue before the 2017-18 season by putting in a rule that if the call wasn’t overturned — and the goal stood — a 2-minute delay of game penalty would be issued. Guess what? A coach had to think long and hard before deciding to challenge.

There is no question the NFL had an issue when referee Bill Vinovich’s crew did not throw a flag after Robey-Coleman’s hit on Lewis and putting in some type of system that enables that call to be fixed needs to happen. But there is a difference between throwing a challenge flag on that play and hoping to get a call on a close play that might have been a penalty.

A threat of being penalized will give a coach reason to think before he tosses that red flag.