(Reuters) - If the National Football League is looking for a way to avoid controversial non-calls like the one that marred the NFC championship game on Sunday they could find it north of the border.
The New Orleans Saints might be on their way to the Super Bowl instead of the Los Angeles Rams if they were playing by Canadian Football League rules that would have allowed for a challenge of what is being described as the most outrageous non-call in NFL history.
The fallout from a missed pass-interference call in the NFC title game, won 26-23 by the Rams, is sure to live on in infamy and endless replays as fans and pundits wonder how everyone in Mercedes Benz Stadium except the on field officials appeared to see the egregious non-call.
The incident triggered a social media storm that shows no signs of subsiding, renewing the debate over the quality of NFL officiating while overshadowing the build up to the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 featuring the Rams and New England Patriots.
All the controversy could have been avoided if the NFL had a rule similar to the one in the CFL where since 2014 coaches have been able to challenge pass interference calls.
Last season in the CFL 42 of 71 challenges were for defensive pass interference, of which 19 (48 percent) were overturned from the original call on the field.
“The CFL introduced video review to fix egregious and indisputable calls that could affect the outcome of a game,” CFL spokesperson Lucas Barrett told Reuters in an email.
“To ensure that was case, defensive pass interference was added to challengeable plays for the beginning of the 2014 season and played a critical role in the 103rd Grey Cup in Winnipeg.”
The Edmonton Eskimos beat the Ottawa Redblacks in the 2015 Grey Cup (Canada’s Super Bowl) with the help of a successful pass interference challenge on what was the winning scoring drive.
With no such challenges available, all New Orleans coaches and players could do was watch helplessly as Los Angeles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman barreled into Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis well before Drew Brees’s pass arrived inside the Rams’ 5-yard line.
Had the penalty been called, the Saints would have had a first-and-goal situation with under two minutes left and could have run out almost all of the clock and set up a game-winning field goal.
But the Saints instead kicked a field goal and the Rams had enough time to tie the game with a field goal of their own before going on to win in overtime.
The idea of allowing coaches to challenge pass interference has been discussed before by the NFL but has yet to receive enough support to pass.
“Since adding defensive pass interference as a challengeable play five years ago, there have been some adjustments,” admitted Barrett. “The speed and flow of Canadian Football is vital to the game.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford