Did you know that NFL coaches can challenge certain plays during an American Football game? It’s true, and sometimes a coach challenging a play can dramatically shift the momentum of a game. Here is a breakdown of what an NFL coach challenge is, the rules, examples, and more!
What is an NFL Coach Challenge?
A coach challenge in American football is a head coach’s process to ask referees to review a call made during a game. The coach initiates the challenge by throwing a red challenge flag onto the field. While the officials review the call, they’ll usually consult video replay of the play, including recordings from different angles to either confirm or overturn the call on the field.
What Are the Coach Challenge Rules / How Many Challenges in the NFL?
Each head coach receives two coaches’ challenges throughout a game that allow them to debate certain types of plays. If a coach wins both of their challenges, they receive the third challenge. The coach signals a challenge by throwing a red flag, commonly called a challenge flag.
There are a limited amount of reviewable plays that coaches can challenge. These are the following plays a coach can challenge if they think the call on the field was incorrect:
- Scoring Plays (such as a touchdown, field goal, safety, extra point, or two-point conversion)
- Whether an offensive receiver or runner is out of bounds
- The result of a pass (complete pass, incomplete pass, or interception)
- Touching a pass, either by a defensive player or ineligible receiver
- Placement of a football, either regarding forward progress for a first down, or other plays
- Runner ruled down by contact
- Illegal forward pass
- Whether recovery of a ball is in the field of play or out of bounds
- Touching of a kick
- Number of players on the field before the snap
What Happens After a Coach Signals a Challenge Call?
After a coach challenges a specific play, referees will go to a TV screen and review a video of it. Coach challenges are known as replay reviews since they require the refs to watch multiple play angles. The officials will look at many angles of the play and establish whether or not there is enough evidence to overturn the call.
After reviewing the evidence, the lead official will announce the investigation results before the next play. The officiating team will also make changes to the score and game clock as necessary. If the officials don’t overturn the call, the team that made the challenge will lose out on one timeout.
During the two-minute warning, the only person who can make replay reviews is the replay official. This referee sits in the broadcast booth above the field, watching different camera angles of each play. If the replay official sees a play that should be challenged or reviewed, they can radio to the on-field officials who can stop the game to discuss the call. The replay official also automatically reviews all scoring plays and turnovers during instant replay reviews.
What is the History of a Coach Challenge?
The NFL started using instant replay in all games in 1986. This new technology suddenly made it possible for coaches to challenge calls on the field. Unfortunately, while it might have made the game fairer, it was a cumbersome, slow process plagued with politics. Many fans complained that introducing instant replay made football games much longer, making games much more boring. Instant replay became so unpopular that it was no longer part of the game process before the 1991 regular season.
In 1999, the NFL saw the first iteration of today’s coach’s challenge system. The new policies included:
- Limiting coaches to two challenges per half.
- Charging a timeout for lost challenges.
- Relying on the replay official for challenges after the two-minute warning.
Since then, the process continues to make changes.
When Did the First Super Bowl Challenge Take Place?
In 2000, New York Giants’ head coach Jim Fassel made the first challenge in a Super Bowl when he argued a fourth-quarter touchdown by the Baltimore Ravens’ Jamal Lewis. Fassel argued that Lewis didn’t have complete control of the ball after crossing the goal line and fumbling into the end zone. The officials reviewed the call but couldn’t rule in Fassel’s favor conclusively. As a result, the call on the field stood.
Where Are the NFL Headquarters / More Changes to the Reviews?
In 2014, the league began having officials at the NFL headquarters in New York talk with on-field officials during the coach’s challenge. This change was to standardize all challenges so officiating could be fairer across the league.
The NFL is constantly making changes to the challenge system to try and improve the game. After a serious missed pass interference call in the 2018 NFC Championship Game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams, the league allowed coaches to challenge pass interference for one year. After a year of testing, owners decided not to enable pass interference to continue as calls allowed by an NFL challenge.
How Often do Coaches Win Their Challenges?
Some coaches are more successful than others when it comes to challenging calls. Dallas Cowboys’ head coach Mike McCarthy has one of the best records, with a 51% success rate. The Seattle Seahawks’ coach, Pete Carroll, and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton are similarly successful, getting nearly 50% of calls overturned after challenges.
Meanwhile, Jon Gruden, head coach of the Oakland Raiders, is famous for his challenge difficulties. In 2019, he lost seven straight challenges. Historically, Gruden has only won about one-third of the challenges during a football game.
Conclusion about NFL Coach’s Challenge
A coach’s challenge is the process that an NFL head coach uses to try and overturn a call on the field. After the head coach throws the red challenge flag, the play is reviewed by on-field referees and replay officials in the broadcast booth. Coaches only get two challenges per game. If they’re incorrect on either of their challenges, they are charged a time out, so it’s crucial only to debate a call when it’s inaccurate.