Spagnola: Never-Ending Quest To Fix It All


FRISCO, Texas – Well, la-de-dah, the NFL is trying its ever-lovin' best to get pass interference right, be this infraction called or not called, be it on or should have been on the defensive player or the offensive player.

Not only making this reviewable during the game, but also to get it as right as possible in the final two minutes of each half without head coaches and their eyes in the sky being required to do the jobs of the on-field officials with challenges.

At least a nice start.

This sort of slipped through the cracks a week ago with the NFL Competition Committee proposing a third change to the process over the past four months to make sure what happened to the New Orleans Saints in the final minute of the NFC Championship Game does not send another team to the Super Bowl thanks to a glaringly bad missed interference call.

And on Thursday, the Competition Committee unanimously recommended this instant replay of pass interference in the final two minutes of each half … for this year only.

So, in case you missed this, instead of asking the coaches to initiate an interference replay challenge in the final two minutes of a half – unlike other egregiously missed calls the replay official can request a review of during those vital four minutes of a 60-minute game – the newest twist will allow the replay official to also buzz down for a review stoppage for interference, no challenged required.

As it always should have been in this never-ending quest to just get it right.

This, by the way, is what the coaches were asking for during the NFL's annual league meetings in March. Take this responsibility out of our hands and let the guy with the best view of the game to just go ahead and fix it himself. Actually, their request was for this to take place during the entire game on all obvious officiating mistakes.

So as of Thursday, this review process becomes a little more simplified after those two-minute warnings by foregoing the coaches having to first initiate a challenge, especially since they have the worst seat in the house and would have to make a hurried decision from a distance while the opposing team is rushing to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball ahead of time.

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has been a vocal proponent for the replay official to be Mr. Fixit, sort of what the now-defunct Alliance of American Football League was asking of the replay official in the sky when an obvious wrong needed to be righted. So at least this is a step in the right direction of what should be a universal change for any obvious officiating blunder on the field.

"It's been a very thoughtful process. The sub-committee I'm on, we've had great visits with all the decisions-makers on this, the back and forth has been outstanding," Garrett said at the outset of the Cowboys three-day minicamp when informed at the time of this newest-proposed alteration to replay. "The goal of the league is to kind of be able to address some of the issues, a significant play that might happen at the end of a game that might have a big impact – not unlike that New Orleans-Rams game, the playoff game down there.

"I think they are trying to handle that, and address that situation in as unobtrusive way as possible."

Of course, there is one caveat to this one-season change on interference at the end of halves, employing what is called a "stricter criteria" than other reviewable plays to prevent excessive stoppages.

"A decision on the field will only be reversed when there is 'clear and obvious visual evidence' that warrants the change," is how this is being worded.

At least this alteration to an obviously missed interference call on the Rams didn't take three years to correct, as did what is a catch and what isn't a catch, when it was clear as day Dez Bryant caught that Tony Romo pass late in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys' 2014 playoff loss to the Packers, 26-20, when the ruled catch was overturned by what then was a highly anal interpretation of law when ultimately reviewed by the NFL office in New York.

Now they tell us it was a catch, just as the NFL did immediately after the NFC title game, telling us what we all knew instantly that the Rams interfered with Saints intended receiver Alvin Kamara.

Yep, so this change is a great step in the right direction. Step, that is.

But what about the other 56 minutes of the game? What about still limiting the head coach to just two challenges a game, and if you get one right then you get a third? Hey, I get it, these officials are not perfect. But guess what? What if in a particular game those guys are only 96-percent correct, called or not called?

Look, take the Cowboys-Rams divisional round playoff game back on Jan. 12 at the LA Coliseum. This reoccurred to me the other day how one call can change the entire complexion of a game – at any time. I get it, the Cowboys were smoked, sort of, by the Rams, 30-22, mostly because their seventh-ranked defense allowed the Rams to run for 273 yards.

But let me again take you back to the second quarter that Saturday, Los Angeles leading just 13-7 with 4:14 left in the half. Sure, the Cowboys had yet to stop the Rams, already having given up two field goals and a touchdown.

Then on third-and-14 at the Rams' 45-yard line, Jared Goff, under heavy pressure, woefully threw incomplete to the right. Hallelujah, the Cowboys had finally forced the home team to punt, and would be getting the ball back around the 4-minute mark down just six points.

But, oh no. There along the left sideline came a flag flying in, having been thrown by side judge Eugene Hall from 25 yards up field from the line of scrimmage – his flag toss sailing like 15 yards further than Goff's attempted pass to tight end Gerald Everett. This guy was calling hands to the face on Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones at the snap on the line of scrimmage. That's a long way to see something so ticky-tack.

A crushing 5-yard, automatic first-down penalty, moving the ball to the 50 thanks to a perceived infraction occurring about as far from where Goff ever intended to throw the ball as possible. Two plays later, Todd Gurley goes 35 yards for an L.A. touchdown, 20-7 Rams. Basically, turn out the lights. This party is over.

But had an eye-in-the-sky – OK, in the replay booth – been able to quickly review the call, he would have seen that on Brandin Cooks' effort to get Jones' hands off his chest he flipped the right hand of Jones upward toward his helmet. And upon further TV review, you could see Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard motioning to Hall in animated disagreement exactly what Cooks did.

That, in minute 26 of the game, can't be fixed. Just an, oh well, play on. Who cares, just part of the game.

Like, what if the Rams had been forced to punt there? What if what ended up being a 20-7 halftime score was just 13-7? Or what if when the Cowboys finally did score another touchdown with 5:30 left in the third after another Los Angeles field goal, the score was just 16-14 instead of 23-15, the eight-point difference the product of made and missed two-point conversion attempts?

Who knows?

Oh, and in case you didn't remember this from that game, on the Cowboys' ensuing possession after Gurley rambled basically untouched on that 35-yard TD run for the 20-7 lead, the Cowboys had driven to the Rams' 36-yard line with 52 seconds left in the half. And with Dak Prescott scrambling away from pressure, and being given a helpful tug by Cowboys right tackle La'el Collins, trying to pull him out of harm's way, in comes head referee John Parry blowing his whistle, waving his hands, ruling Prescott was in the grasp. Sack, play over, an 8-yard loss that forced the Cowboys to punt instead of possibly attempting a 54-yard field goal had he at the very least been allowed to throw the ball away.

Everyone in the Coliseum could see the Rams didn't have Prescott in the grasp. Collins did. And replay confirmed that. But under NFL replay rules, that wrong can't be righted. Can't be fixed.

And even afterward, when Parry was questioned by the designated pool reporter, he insisted, "(Dak) was no longer moving forward." And when pressed on if a defensive player had his hands around Prescott, Parry said, "Hands around the quarterback from my view."

Sure thing, hands … just not enemy hands. His was a bad view.

Definitely a capable eye-in-the-sky fix, right?

You know, sometimes in these games what happens in the 26th minute or the 29th minute is just as important as what happened in the 59th minute to the Saints.

Come on Rog, just fix it all.