- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2019

RICHMOND — In case you missed it, and no one would blame you if you did, history was made Thursday night during the NFL’s Hall of Fame Game. 

With 3:19 left in the second quarter, Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio challenged the on-field ruling of pass interference — something coaches couldn’t do before.

After last season’s controversial no-call in the NFC Championship game — in which referees missed a blatant hit on a Saints receiver late — coaches will now be allowed to challenge calls and non-calls for pass interference, as they would for other reviewable plays. In addition, such plays are also now reviewable inside the final two minutes of each half, as long as there is “clear and obvious visual evidence.” 

In Fangio’s case, he lost his challenge — losing a timeout in the process.

But overall, the change creates an “interesting dilemma” for coaches, said Jay Gruden said.

“It’s something we’ve got to watch out for,” the Redskins coach said. “These plays are huge and then you have to decide what play is big enough to challenge (compared to) where you don’t want to challenge. … It’s going to be something we have to discuss, when and how to use them.”

Not everyone, however, is on board with the shift.

In a sport that struggles to define what a “catch” is, opponents of the change have argued the league’s definition for “clear and obvious” with pass interference calls is anything but. Other critics have said additional replays will only slow the game down further.

At mandatory minicamp in June, Redskins cornerback Josh Norman sounded off over the league’s decision — arguing it was another example of the league catering to offenses.

“We keep touching this game and (there’s) nothing wrong with it,” Norman said. “(We’ve) been playing it since we were kids. … Now we’re starting to put more touches on it. We’re playing an imperfect game but trying to make it perfect and that’s where you’re going to run into problems because there will always be human error. We can’t do anything about that.”

Tony Steratore, an NFL referee with 20 years of experience, said Sunday the league hasn’t changed the way they’ll judge pass interference. Steratore and his crew were in Richmond this weekend to meet with the Redskins and go over the new rules for the upcoming season.

Inside two minutes, replay will be triggered from a replay official. From there, the on-field officials hear feedback from the league’s replay command center in New York.

“As far as us on-field game officials, we’re not going to be doing anything different than we’ve done for the past 20 years that I can speak to, and I know longer back than that,” Steratore said. “Clear and obvious is really something that’s going to be determined in the replay process.”

Gruden said the Redskins will rely on senior assistant Matt Cavanaugh to watch for potential pass interference calls from the coaches’ box.

It will be interesting, meanwhile, to see how many games are affected by the rule change. Beyond the outcome of the NFC Championship game, there are always a handful of games that can swing on certain plays.

For instance, in last November’s game against the Houston Texans, the Redskins were particularly upset when referees didn’t throw their flags on a play late in the fourth quarter in which defenders Kareem Jackson and Justin Reid both made contact with receiver Josh Doctson before the ball arrived.

If the penalty was called, the Redskins would have moved into field goal range with only 16 seconds remaining — and instead lost 23-21.

A win would have improved the Redskins to 7-3, arguably putting them in a better position to make the playoffs. Perhaps, it didn’t matter as that was the game Alex Smith suffered a season-ending leg injury.

Regardless of what-ifs, safety Montae Nicholson said defenders have to get used to their new reality — even if it puts them at a disadvantage.

“There are more ways for us to get a pass interference than an offense,” Nicholson said. “We have to play as such. They’re going to call what they’re going to call. They’re not going to call what they’re not going to call. We have to play within the rules of the game, and that’s just what that is.”

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