In a move that was being called for by many coaches, including Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, NFL owners voted to approve expansion of the league's replay system Tuesday.
For the 2019 season, offensive and defensive pass interference will be reviewable. For the first time, coaches will be able to challenge non-calls for pass interference. During the final two minutes of each half, the replay booth will be responsible for initiating challenges.
Owners at the NFL Annual League Meetings in Phoenix voted in favor of allowing replay for pass interference, 31-1, reacting to the obvious pass interference penalty that was not called during the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints. Benefitting from the penalty that wasn't called, the Rams ultimately won the game and reached the Super Bowl, much to the frustration of the Saints, their fans, and many others.
Before Tuesday's owners vote was taken, Harbaugh was confident some changes to replay rules would be made. Harbaugh was one of many coaches who were outspoken at the meetings, feeling the league was obligated to react, particularly after the controversy in the NFC championship.
"Something will definitely get done, no doubt," Harbaugh said Tuesday in Phoenix. "The good thing about this is everybody has good intentions on what's best for the game and what's best for the players. I do think something will pass. It will be some form of replay. You can put it on the coaches.
"This could've been three or four years ago when all these proposals were made. If we can't react and get things fixed, then shame on us."
Coaches will still have only two challenge flags, so they will have to be used judiciously.
"Fans are going to go: 'Why didn't you challenge that?'" Harbaugh said. "We're going to go, 'Because I had to keep a challenge in my back pocket for the inevitable pass interference that's going to happen with three minutes left in the game.' I can't be out of challenges at that point."
Regarding other proposed rule changes:
- Owners voted down the "fourth-and-15" proposal, which would have given teams the option not to kick off after scoring in the fourth quarter. Instead of choosing an onside kick, the proposal wanted to give teams the option to run one offensive play from their own 35-yard line. If that play had gone for 15 yards or more, the team would have maintained possession. If not, the opposing team would have taken over on downs.
Harbaugh had been in favor of the "fourth-and-15 rule" being passed.
"We're for it, makes the game exciting," Harbaugh said. "The onside kick has become almost impossible the way the rules are now. So I think you have to give it some chance for a make-it take-it type of a situation in football, so people have a chance to come back. I wouldn't want it the whole game. That'd really be exciting. If there's a new league, they'll probably put it in for the whole game."
- The owners voted to eliminate all blindside blocks, not just those to the head and neck.
- A proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs to give both teams at least one possession in overtime was tabled.