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Posted: Tuesday October 28, 2008 1:42PM; Updated: Wednesday October 29, 2008 4:23AM
Peter King Peter King >
MONDAY MORNING QB - TUESDAY

Expect replay rule to be tweaked in wake of Eagles-Falcons blown call

Story Highlights

Change would likely let ref call for reviews in final five minutes of second half

A Super Bowl XLIII matchup the Dr. Z's of the world would love to see

Follow up on staph infections, Skyline Chili and movies I need to see

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You have bombarded me with questions about the seemingly unfair way (and I'm sure Mike Smith, Rich McKay and Arthur Blank would not include the words "seemingly'' there) the Atlanta-Philadelphia game ended, and so I've scrapped plans to write about the new Dallas stadium 'til next week. Instead, let's examine the play, and the game situation, that I can guarantee you will be reviewed after the season by the National Football League. I'll start with one of the most cogent letters, from John Hyman, of Chicago:

"Peter, in light of the unfortunate blown call at the end of the Falcons-Eagles game Sunday, do you think the NFL should consider increasing the window of time at the end of games during which questionable calls are reviewed by a replay official? It seems a little perverse to force a coach whose team is trailing to keep one timeout in his pocket until the two-minute warning just in case one of the officials screws up. Shouldn't the burden be on the officials to get the call right, and not on a coach to alter his clock management strategy?''

Let's set the stage for those unfamiliar with the play (which can also be seen in the video above): Philadelphia led 20-14 with 2:30 to play and Sav Rocca punting. Atlanta had burned all its timeouts trying to have as much time left to mount a potential game-winning drive, and it looked like the Falcons would get the ball near their 35 with about 2:20 to play.

However, after Rocca's shorter-than-expected punt landed, Falcons return man Adam Jennings ran forward to field it, then stopped close to the ball as it hit the ground. When the ball bounced up, Akeem Jordan of the Eagles' punt team grabbed it at the Atlanta 40 (Jordan had a clear path to the end zone, but rules state the kicking team cannot advance the ball if it is muffed). The officials ruled that Jennings touched the ball and called the play a muff, meaning the Eagles rightly now had possession.

The Falcons went nuts, of course, claiming Jennings had not touched the ball -- which replays seemed to back. But because coach Mike Smith had used his three timeouts and because the NFL allows replay reviews only by coach's challenge until the two-minute warning of each half, the Falcons were powerless to appeal the call. And even though the call was botched, the replay official upstairs could not buzz down to the field to say he wanted to review it because the play was outside of two minutes.

When the NFL exhumed replay in 1999, there was a long discussion of how to implement it. Should it be a coach's challenge system or should it be controlled all by the man upstairs? Should it be a modified system, with the coaches having some latitude and the replay official some? The NFL decided to make it a coach's challenge system, except late in each half.

Some wanted it to be a coach's challenge only in the last two minutes of a game. Some wanted it in the last two minutes of each half. Some wanted it in the last five minutes of a game. The league settled on a two plus two system -- the coaches would have the ability to call for a review in the first 28 minutes of either half; if the challenge was correct, they'd keep a timeout. If the replay backed the call on the field, it would cost the coach a timeout.

I'm not sure, but this might be the first time you could point to a seemingly obvious blown call outside the two-minute warning that a coach couldn't challenge because his team was out of timeouts. I don't recall it happening, but it certainly might have. Having said that, I believe the league will think seriously of addressing the rule after the season with a tweak that won't be very revolutionary.

Currently, the timing of plays in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half differs from how the clock is run at other times of the game. After penalties and after runners go out of bounds in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half, the clock does not start until the snap of the next play. Before that, the clock starts upon placement of the ball. What I think you'll see now is debate seeking the same rules for instant replay -- let the replay official upstairs call for reviews on his own in the last two minutes of the first and in the last five minutes of the second half. In the Atlanta-Philadelphia case, it would have allowed for Smith to use his timeouts in good conscience, knowing he'd be protected in the event of an egregious call.

Considering that Atlanta president Rich McKay is co-chair of the rules-making NFL Competition Committee, I think it's likely this issue will be heard when the committee begins its postseason deliberations in February. I can't think of a reason not to tweak the rule, unless you're into the strategic aspect of coaches saving a timeout for just such an emergency.

For those who are concerned about the potential for more reviews making the games longer, I say this. How many times during a season might this happen? Once? Twice? It might cause coaches to use timeouts more cavalierly, but the purpose of replay is to make a wrong call right. The league is averaging about one replay stoppage per game. Replay stoppages last between two and three minutes, on average. I'll be generous: Suppose this adds eight more reviews per season to games. Isn't it worth 16 to 24 total minutes per season -- about 10 seconds per game -- to ensure nothing like the play at the end of the Eagles-Falcons game happens again? I think so.

***

One of the most wide-ranging e-mail bags in recent weeks. I'm so pleased with the soup-to-nuts aspect of all of you this week. (And no, I did not just call you a bunch of nuts.) But first, a quick take on the Monday night game.

Tennessee beat Indianapolis 31-21 to all but end the suspense in the AFC South and give the Titans a four-game lead in the division with nine games to play. It was a more hardscrabble performance than we might have expected given the beat-up nature of the Colts, but I did notice this one key to victory:

The Titans' mantra all week was to keep Kerry Collins clean and not let the speed of the Indy front seven play a part in the game. Collins did stay clean. He wasn't sacked -- and if you read Monday Morning QB, you noted now the Titans have a streak of 5 games (22 quarters) without allowing a sack. Amazing in today's football, where speed on defense kills. What's more, Dwight Freeney was neutralized by Tennessee left tackle Michael Roos with occasional chip help, and the Colts had but two quarterback hits on Collins in four quarters.

This is a column for another day, but is anyone else salivating at the thought of a Giants-Titans Super Bowl, with the specter of that fearsome Giants' front against the Great Wall of Tennessee? It won't be the sexiest Super Bowl matchup ever, but the Dr. Z's of the world won't be able to sleep the night before that one, wondering if Kevin Mawae and company can neutralize Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield, and if Roos and David Stewart can keep the speed-rush heat off Collins ... not to mention Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch fighting an excellent Giants offensive front.

***

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