Thanks to some excellent pilots who showed no fear of quarter-mile visibility here in the snowy Upper Midwest, I've returned safely to NFC North blog headquarters after three days at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. And thanks to Justin over on Facebook, I realized we spent so much time pulling apart the new kickoff rules that we neglected to point out the approval of another rule close the NFC North (blog's) heart.
By a 30-2 margin, NFL owners approved a significant change to instant replay -- one that shifts some of the burden of in-game oversight from coaches to third-party replay officials. Those of you who participated in our Dirty Laundry discussions last season know that I'm all about removing coaches from the primary role in rectifying officiating mistakes.
Under the new rule, coaches will still have two challenges available to them -- and a third if they win the first two. But replay officials are now entrusted with reviewing every scoring play in addition to all plays that occur after the two-minute warning of both halves and all of overtime.
Competition committee chairman Rich McKay, who is also president of the Atlanta Falcons, referred to the change as a "modernization of instant replay." I would certainly consider it an evolution. To me, this change is an important step in removing gamesmanship, home-field advantage and other subjective or arbitrary elements from what should be an objective and relatively clinical process.
It could still leave a final ruling for many key plays in the hands of coaches, but you have to start somewhere. As important as they are, touchdowns seem the logical place to begin.
Of the inequitable instances we discussed last season, there is one in particular that would be impacted by this rule.
If you remember, Green Bay Packers running back John Kuhn was credited with an 8-yard touchdown run during a 45-17 victory over the New York Giants in Week 16. Immediately after referee Walt Anderson's crew awarded Kuhn the touchdown, he jumped to his feet, sprinted to the sideline and began rolling his index finger to encourage the Packers' extra-point team to hurry onto the field.
It was a smart move and completely within the rules. We've seen many occasions over the years where a kicking team has moved into position before a coach had seen a replay that could spur a challenge. In the case of Kuhn's score, which came with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Packers kicked even before the replay official completed its review.
Kuhn admitted afterward that he wasn't sure if he had scored before his knee touched the ground. Based on what McKay said this week, such opportunities to circumvent the system will be dramatically lessened if not eliminated altogether.
"That replay assistant will be required to confirm every scoring play," McKay said. "If he doesn't confirm the play, obviously, the referee will review the play. The ball would be held by the umpire until he has gotten the signal that the play had been confirmed."
Some of you are probably concerned that reviewing all scores will cause long delays and disrupt the flow of the game. McKay didn't rule out that possibility but suggested a forthcoming set of timing guidelines could mitigate those instances. As much as I like having fresh material for Dirty Laundry every week, I would be willing to add a few extra minutes to each game if it ensured a material decrease in obviously missed calls during regular season games.