METAIRIE, La. — Although Sean Payton helped to inspire and create the NFL’s controversial new pass interference replay rule, he is among the growing legions who are disappointed with the results.
So the New Orleans Saints coach has a suggestion to improve it: Instead of replays being decided solely by the league’s senior vice president of officiating, Al Riveron, they should be decided by a group of three people.
“You know, we don’t have one Supreme Court justice,” said Payton, who pointed out that the Canadian Football League uses a group to decide its pass interference replays.
“It doesn’t have to be a committee. I don’t like committees,” said Payton, who first suggested the idea in an interview with Pro Football Talk last week, then doubled down during his weekly Monday teleconference. “I just think it’s quiet when it’s singular. … I know when we put together a third-down plan, I might have a few ideas. But I’m gonna ask [offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. or quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi], ‘What do you guys think?’
“That interaction helps you arrive at better decisions. And I think clearly we would benefit from that. Because look, Sunday’s a long day.”
Payton stressed that he doesn’t have a problem with Riveron himself, calling him “outstanding.” But, Payton said, “I think he’s got a tough job. And when you have a group of three, I think you’re gonna arrive at more consistent calls.”
The NFL made a groundbreaking rule change this offseason to allow pass interference calls to be reviewed by replay — an effort that was spearheaded by Payton after his Saints fell victim to the infamous missed pass interference call in the NFC Championship Game. However, the standard for overturning such calls has been almost impossible, leading to heavy criticism from coaches, players, media and fans.
Through Sunday’s games, a total of 55 coaches’ challenges have been denied after a replay review, with only eight calls being reversed, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The total is much closer when it comes to booth reviews (six reversed, five upheld).
Payton has been asked about the issue from time to time this season because of his connection to the rule changes. But he finally became personally affected in Sunday’s 34-31 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
First, Payton challenged a pass interference call for the first time all season (and lost) when Saints tight end Jared Cook was flagged for offensive pass interference in the first quarter.
Then, in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Panthers coach Ron Rivera actually won a challenge on a critical third-down play when Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson was charged with pass interference against receiver Jarius Wright after a replay review. The officials also called offensive PI against Saints receiver Michael Thomas during a 2-point conversion attempt in the third quarter.
“It wasn’t our best game, and by far it wasn’t their best game,” Payton said when asked about the penalty calls on Sunday. “And quite honestly, it wasn’t New York’s best game [a reference to the NFL’s command center, where Riveron makes the replay decisions].
“The change that took place in the offseason … sitting in on every one of those meetings, I don’t know that it’s exactly what we discussed with where we are today with it. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not. But we’ve gotta be able to adjust to it,” he added. “It’s just a matter of how you interpret it. I mean, I got the replay and I felt pretty good on both of those. I’m quite sure if we sat and looked at that in our meetings, most would agree. But it is what it is.”
The Panthers weren’t able to take advantage of their rare replay win, thanks to a goal-line stand by the Saints and a missed 28-yard field goal by kicker Joey Slye.
But Rivera made an interesting point Monday when he said it was worth a challenge because it came in a “critical situation.”
“I felt that’s really what [the rule] was designed for, to make sure at the end of the game when something that egregious could happen, that’s what we as coaches need to think about and focus in on,” Rivera said of Wright being yanked back briefly by Gardner-Johnson to help force an incomplete pass. “That’s what the whole idea behind the [rule] was. It’s got to be a clear and obvious and egregious penalty, and that’s the criteria, especially where it was …
“I’m just wondering if it’s situational. When you get close to the end of the game where something that big could truly impact, I think that’s maybe what the interpretation would be. … I’ve been looking for this type of situation to challenge to see what the interpretation would be. I think that’s what it’s for.
“Maybe that’s what the criteria will be.”
ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton contributed to this report.