Colts Coach Frank Reich on NFL Nixing P.I. Challenges: ‘It’s The Right Move’

Although he was one of the few NFL coaches to successfully challenge pass interference, Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich agreed with the league’s decision to discontinue pass-interference penalties being red-flagged.
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INDIANAPOLIS — He experienced both sides of challenging pass-interference calls in 2019, but Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich says the NFL is making the right call on ending the instant-replay option after a one-year trial.

Reich’s successful challenge of a pass-interference penalty that wasn’t initially called in a Week 8 home game against Denver marked just the second reversal in 22 challenges at that season juncture. He also lost past-interference challenges in games at Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

“I think it’s the right thing for right now,” Reich said in a Tuesday Zoom video conference call. “Do I think that there is a way to modify it somewhere in the future? Maybe so, maybe so. I thought it was a one-year experiment like you said, Phil. We did get the one call, it was a huge call in that Denver game on T.Y. (Hilton). I think it gives us a chance to go back and look at it and see if there is any way to modify it and make it better, but for now, we will just chalk it up to experience and I think it is the right move to kind of put that aside.”

Of 102 plays in the regular season and postseason that were subject to a review of either offensive or defensive pass interference, just 24 were changed. Reich’s successful red flag was one of just 21 reversals for pass interference when it wasn’t called on the field.

The Colts were trailing 13-12 with 4:43 remaining against the Broncos when Hilton’s left arm was grabbed on a third-and-5 pass from the Colts’ 13. No penalty was called. Reich gambled with the red flag. Had he lost that challenge, the forfeiture of a timeout and the precious seconds ticking off what would have been a continuous clock likely would have prevented the Colts from Adam Vinatieri kicking a game-winning, 51-yard field goal on their next drive with 26 seconds remaining for a 15-13 victory.

But as instant replay critics have said, the challenge option became a detriment because too often the final decision wasn’t the correct call and the focus on a replay decision further delayed games.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said on Monday the pass-interference replay system “failed miserably.”

Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien throws his red flag to challenge a call during a 2019 game.

Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien throws his red flag to challenge a 2019 call.

The league is now considering using a "sky judge," who would serve as a booth umpire for each officiating crew.

“We saw, a year ago, when [the pass interference rule] played out, starting with myself, what we put in place last year ... Those outcomes were not good for professional football," Vincent told NBC Sports' Peter King. “Because we didn't do the proper due diligence, it played out publicly. The last thing people should be talking about is the way the game is officiated. They [officials] should be faceless objects, managing and facilitating game flow."

In the Colts’ 19-13 win at Kansas City in Week 5, Hilton was called for offensive pass interference although the contact he made with the defender came within the permissible one yard of the line of scrimmage. The first down earned with a 12-yard pass completion on the third-and-2 play was negated. Reich challenged. The call was upheld.

The next week, Reich lost a challenge at a key juncture in the Colts’ 26-24 loss at Pittsburgh. Rookie Marvell Tell III was flagged for pass interference to put the ball at the Colts’ 7. After Reich failed to get it overturned, the Steelers kicked what proved to be the deciding field goal with 6:36 remaining.

(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is phillipbwilson24@yahoo.com.)