Saints' Sean Payton: NFL Wasn't Ready to Enforce Pass Interference Replay Review

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMay 14, 2020

UNSPECIFIED LOCATION - APRIL 23: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this still image from video provided by the New Orleans Saints, Head Coach Sean Payton speaks via teleconference after being selected during the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft on April 23, 2020. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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The NFL's replay review system for pass interference is one-and-done following a controversial year where inconsistencies and questionable decisions reigned. 

In regard to his feelings on the topic, Saints head coach Sean Payton offered the following response (h/t Luke Johnson of the Advocate):

"Obviously we weren't prepared to enforce that and monitor that the correct way. I think the theory behind it, and what the league voted onand when I say the league, all 32 teamscertainly it had a chance to be successful. But quite honestly, we weren't ready in New York to handle it. I know that sounds critical, but that's just a fact.

"The consistency and the ability to take in the calls and at least come up with a fairly level basis of what you're going to interpret that call on. And if we're not ready there, then we shouldn't have it. I think that's the feeling that all of us have right now, including myself."

Payton's Saints were on the wrong end of a call that caused the system to be enacted for 2019.

In the 2018 NFC Championship Game, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly interfered with Saints wideout Tommylee Lewis on a third-down pass deep in Rams territory with the score tied at 20 late in the fourth quarter.

If the penalty was called, the Saints had a chance to run out the clock and kick a game-winning field goal. Instead, they settled for a field goal with enough time for the Rams to drive down and nail their own to tie the game. L.A. won in overtime.

In the offseason, NFL head coaches were granted the ability to challenge pass interference. However, that ended up bringing about more questions than answers, with Danny Heifetz of The Ringer summing the situation up well:

"Coaches are confused, players are perplexed, and fans are furious. This was predictable. Not only did the rule change not fix the original issues that arose after refs missed a blatant penalty in January's NFC championship game, it created a whole new set of problems."

And Rich Madrid of Football Zebras highlighted the technical issues and inevitable subjectivity of a replay system:

"In an earlier piece, I stated that these types of reviews are entirely based on subjectivity unless there is absolute clear and obvious evidence of a foul due to the nature of defensive back play and the proximity of the receiver and cornerback during the play. The 'stands' versus 'confirmed' call on the field further adds to the complexity of the issue because in every review but one, the call is ultimately 'stands,' meaning the replay officials did not make a determination if and when the contact initiated hindered the ability of the pass catcher.

"It now appears that even significant contact that hinders the receiver's ability is not easy to determine, though it was clear to anyone watching what the call should've been. It again highlights the subjective nature of the process."

Controversial pass interference calls and no-calls have dotted NFL history throughout the years and at pivotal moments in playoff games.

Examples include Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson perhaps getting away with OPI in a 17-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the 1975 playoffs and New York Giants cornerback Sheldon White getting called for DPI in the 1989 postseason versus the Los Angeles Rams, who upset the G-Men 19-13 in overtime.

The difference between those two and other examples versus the Lewis/Robey-Coleman case is that there is no debate about whether the Rams defensive back committed a penalty, and there is little doubt the Saints would have far more likely than not come away the victors if PI was called.

That in turn created the rule change, but it turned out to be a bust from multiple angles.