NFL to revisit challenge rule

Updated: November 24, 2012, 8:06 AM ET
By Ed Werder | ESPN

Ray Anderson, the league's vice president of football operations, said the NFL's Competition Committee will discuss in the next few days whether to change the challenge rule that Lions coach Jim Schwartz and Falcons coach Mike Smith violated the past two weeks.

[+] EnlargeJustin Forsett
AP Photo/Paul SancyaTexans running back Justin Forsett appeared down on this run, but his 81-yard TD couldn't be challenged, helping Houston to an eventual overtime victory.

The coaches recently were flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct -- Schwartz in Detroit's eventual overtime loss to Houston on Thanksgiving Day -- for throwing the challenge flag on a play that is automatically reviewed.

While the league normally prefers rules changes to occur in the offseason for competitive reasons, Anderson said Friday that this specific rule could be rescinded or revised during the season or for the upcoming playoffs.

The situation with Schwartz occurred Thursday when Houston Texans running back Justin Forsett was hit by Detroit defenders; replays clearly showed his knee and elbow touched the turf when he was hit. There was no whistle on the play and Forsett stayed on his feet and ran to the end zone, scoring an 81-yard touchdown.

Schwartz inadvertently wiped out any chance of the play being reviewed by throwing his challenge flag. Scoring plays are automatically reviewed, but if a coach throws a challenge flag, as Schwartz did, the review is negated and a 15-yard usportsmanlike conduct penalty is assessed.

Houston won the game in overtime 34-31.

"I overreacted," Schwartz acknowledged, "and I cost us."

Smith made a similiar mistake in Atlanta's Nov. 18 game against the Arizona Cardinals. He threw his challenge flag on a Falcons fumble that would have been subject to review anyway. Smith was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty and the play was not reviewed, costing the Falcons a chance to get the ball back. Atlanta won the game 23-19.

Dean Blandino, the NFL's director of instant replay, explained the review rule, which was instituted in 2011, during a recent appearance on NFL Network on the heels of Smith's challenge. Details of Blandino's explanation were reported by NFL.com.

"The rule was put in place really to prevent a team in a challenge situation from creating a delay," Blandino said, according to NFL.com. "They're thinking about challenging the play, they commit a foul, jump offside, false start, now they've given themselves more time to make that decision.

"So we tell our coaches, 'Don't throw the flag.' Our officials should get to the sideline, explain to them that the play is not challengeable, and then the replay official is looking at it and he will stop the game and look at it if he deems that it needs to be stopped."

The New York Times cited a specific example of a team purposely incurring a foul in a Giants-Redskins game in 2010. In essence, the Giants recovered a fumble but there was doubt as to whether the Redskins player had been down. While Washington comtemplated a challenge, an official spotted the ball and Redskins linebacker London Fletcher kicked it and was flagged for delay of game. During that course of time, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan challenged the ruling of a fumble.

According to The Times, the competition committee acknowledged the benefit of time a team could gain by committing a penalty in this scenario, so the rule was changed.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Ed Werder

ESPN NFL Insider