After his team was robbed of a chance to go to the Super Bowl following an egregious non-call in the NFC Championship Game, Sean Payton spearheaded the campaign to get pass interference reviewable this offseason. NFL owners ultimately agreed, changing the rule to allow coaches to challenge such plays, and the review booth to look at PI under two minutes.
One concern about the new rule is that it could bog down play, with tedious reviews elongating contests even further.
Joining NFL Network's Total Access from the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Payton suggested Thursday that the looming ability to challenge PI calls and non-calls could push coaches to be more judicious with their challenge flags early in contests.
"Let's start with the very first premise for the fans: It's still just like all the other challenges that we have in place," Payton said. "Remember we only have two to start with. So, I don't think you're going to see more challenge flags. Probably you're going to be a little bit more judicious knowing that you want to have at least one left and if you feel like there's something you see clearly and it's outside of two minutes as a coach you can challenge it. And of course, inside of two minutes, it goes upstairs to replay. And we're all, in this day and age with our technology and with the fans getting a chance to see real-time, we're wanting those calls, especially in games like that, to be officiated correctly."
Payton is likely right that coaches should be shrewder with their challenges early in games. This premise could have been true even before PI became reviewable. The idea of challenging a questionable 6-yard out route on first down with seven minutes left in the first quarter should have been laughable. Some NFL coaches, however, live in a sphere of swampy thought-water, in which every inch must always be fought for regardless of surrounding circumstances. One of the most ridiculous uses of challenges came in 2018 when Green Bay Packers interim coach Joe Philbin burned both of his challenges 1 minute and 23 seconds into a game versus the Atlanta Falcons this season. One minute, 23 seconds.
Replay wasn't intended to nitpick every single error made by human referees, but rather correct the obvious big mistakes -- like turnovers and scores -- that could completely change the fabric of contests. Perhaps the looming thought that a big PI call could be coming down the line could incentivize coaches to keep their red flag in their pockets more often early in games.
How the replay booth manages pass interference calls inside of two minutes will be the bigger question, as the NFL and its fans don't want endless replays slamming the breaks on the end of games. Expect the league to use the preseason to experiment and tinker with the replay issue -- much as it did with the helmet rule last year -- before real games begin.