SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes looks at three of the biggest stories NFL fans will watch unfold this offseason.
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Delvin Breaux watched the now-infamous no-call live from Section 102 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, about six rows up from field level. He saw Nickell Robey-Coleman collide with Tommylee Lewis and wondered, incredulously, why New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton wasn’t challenging the missed pass interference call.
“Man, that’s BS!” Breaux thought. “Come on Payton, throw the challenge flag out there!’
Payton, of course, couldn’t challenge the play, because pass interference is not reviewable in the NFL. But there was good reason for Breaux’s confusion. The New Orleans native — and former Saints cornerback — now plays with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, so he’s grown accustomed to the CFL’s way of doing things.
“I got all caught up in the moment,” he recalled to USA TODAY Sports last week, “and forgot this is the NFL.”
As the NFL’s competition committee prepares to meet in Indianapolis on Monday to discuss potential rule changes for 2019 — and as that missed call in the NFC championship game still lingers over the league — Breaux is one of several current and former CFL players and coaches who believes Canada can offer a solution.
They say the NFL should follow the lead of its northern neighbors and add pass interference to the list of plays that can be challenged by coaches and reviewed by replay.
“When that play happened, that’s the first thing I thought of,” Breaux said. “I think it’d be awesome to put into the NFL.”
The CFL has allowed coaches to challenge offensive or defensive pass interference since 2014. Though CFL coaches only get one challenge — as opposed to two in the NFL — they are allowed to challenge these penalties, whether they’re called, just like an incomplete catch or a player stepping out of bounds.
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The result: According to league statistics, 41 of the CFL’s 72 coaches’ challenges in 2018 involved pass interference calls or non-calls. And more than half of those challenged penalties (21) were overturned.
“I think it’s a good rule,” said Montreal Alouettes coach Mike Sherman, who previously worked as a head coach with the Green Bay Packers and Texas A&M Aggies. “I think I threw the flag five times (this year), only won one of them. But you just don’t know if that one is going to determine whether you win the Super Bowl — or the Grey Cup, or the national championship, or whatever the case may be.”
Sherman’s argument — that one incorrect call could have significant consequences — has been echoed by some of his NFL counterparts for years, long before the Saints-Rams no-call helped send the Rams to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and coach-turned-broadcaster Rex Ryan are among those who have previously urged the league to expand the challenge system to include penalties like pass interference. Formal proposals to that effect have been voted down by NFL owners each time.
“I just want to get it right,” Ryan told reporters in 2016, when his proposal to expand instant-replay challenges was rejected. “You don’t want to lose a game based on a call.”
The Associated Press reported the competition committee — which, notably, includes Payton — will once again consider potential changes to the replay review system this offseason. Any recommended changes would need to be approved by 24 of the league’s 32 owners.
For their part, players who have spent time in the NFL and CFL told USA TODAY Sports they vastly prefer the CFL’s system, even if it doesn’t benefit them personally at times.
Tiger-Cats wide receiver Brandon Banks, who spent three seasons with the Washington Redskins, said he was concerned that challenging pass interference calls might slow down the game, but he would still prefer it to the NFL’s rule because “at the end of the day, the call is right.” Breaux, a two-time CFL all-star, said it’s “by far” the one CFL rule the NFL should employ.
“I’ve been called on it before when I was in the CFL,” said former Edmonton Eskimos wide receiver Duke Williams, who signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills last month. “I didn’t like it, but it was a fair rule.”
Banks, Breaux and Sherman also said they’d like to see the NFL adopt the CFL’s “halo rule,” which gives punt returners a five-yard radius to safely field a punt and attempt to return it.
But they said making pass interference plays reviewable — and avoiding another Saints-Rams fiasco — would be a great place to start.
“It’s a call that the officials on the field see much better than everybody else,” Sherman said. “But if for some reason one is just totally missed, at least you’ve got it covered.”
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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