O'Hara: NFL looks to change challenge rule, but it's too late for the Lions

Posted Nov 23, 2012

Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported late Thursday night and again Friday morning that for the 2013 season, the NFL will change the rule that penalizes teams for throwing the challenge flag on touchdowns and turnovers.

Challenge rule: It is too late to get Coach Jim Schwartz off the hook for an emotional reaction that gave up a vital touchdown and changed momentum in Thursday's overtime loss to the Texans, but the NFL is poised to do something I didn't expect.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported late Thursday night and again Friday morning that for the 2013 season, the NFL will change the rule that penalizes teams for throwing the challenge flag on touchdowns and turnovers.

That will be a good move by the NFL, but too late to do the Lions any good.

Forsett was obviously down, and players on both teams reacted accordingly – every player except Forsett. He got up on the turf and continued running, completing what was an underserved 81-yard run to the end zone and a bogus TD.

The NFL put in rules this year to replay all turnovers and scoring plays to prevent such a play happening. But there also was a rule prohibiting teams to throw the challenge flag – apparently so coaches wouldn't show up game officials who screwed up.

The penalty, as imposed Thursday, voids the replay review and adds a 15-yard penalty on the subsequent kickoff.

It's a stupid rule and a harsh penalty against a team that got jobbed because of bad officiating.     
The NFL is doing the right thing to change it. The only thing better would be to change it immediately, instead of waiting until next week.

PR machine: The NFL reacts fast to bad publicity. It already did that once this year, ending a lockout of game officials and negotiating a new contract  after a blown call gave the Seahawks a last-minute catch in a 14-12 win over the Packers in Week 3.

It was a Monday night game on national TV and created an uproar.

The replacement officials already have proved to be an embarrassment.

To say the NFL acted quickly would be wrong. The league already had suffered through the exhibition season and three weeks of regular season games with some of the worst officiating in the history of organized sports at any level.

When the embarrassment meter was redlined is when the NFL reacted quickly to bring the real officials back.

The same is happening with the challenge rule. The Atlanta Falcons got caught in the rule the previous week, but the flaw was exposed on national TV on Thanksgiving Day.

Schwartz: He did the honorable thing in admitting immediately on the sideline and in his post-game press conference that he knew the rule and had reacted emotionally in throwing the flag.

However, it's more important to do your job than to apologize for making a mistake.

Suh kick: The national media are piling on Ndamukong Suh for the kick that connected with Texans quarterback Matt Schaub's groin in the first half. The CBS crew was especially volatile, both during the play-by-play and the studio analysis.

Once again, look for the NFL office to react to public opinion - especially when a high-profile player like Suh is involved in a game that was televised nationally.

Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice-president for football operations, spoke about the issue Friday morning on the Dan Patrick show.

"It appeared to be a little out of the ordinary, let's just say," said Anderson said. "It didn't appear to be a natural football move, but we'll withhold judgment until we see all the angles."

Being a repeat offender doesn't help Suh's case. He was suspended for two games last year for stomping on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith in a Thanksgiving Day game.

It also doesn't help that Anderson, a high league executive, was weighing in on the issue less than 24 hours after the incident occurred.

The zebras: They get punished, too, and the NFL should sanction Walt Coleman's crew for its performance in the Lions-Texans game.

Blowing the call on Forsett's touchdown was unforgivable. Officials can call pass interference from 20 yards away, so they should see a player land on the turf from half that distance.

Officials are fined, and sometimes suspended for a game, for an egregious mistake. The Forsett play qualifies as egregious.

Measuring stick: If you had to pick which of the three losing teams on Thanksgiving Day gave the best performance, it had to be the Lions.

The Jets were in a 35-0 hole on the way to a 49-19 loss. The Cowboys faced a 28-3 deficit before rallying to make a 38-31 loss at home to Washington look more cosmetic.

The Lions never trailed against Houston until Shayne Graham kicked the winning field goal in overtime.

There is no prize for being best loser, but the last two losses – to Houston and 24-20 to Green Bay – showed again that the Lions do not lack talent. They can compete, but they haven't been able to win. Something's missing.