A first for Bill Belichick: Patriots lose initial pass interference challenge


FOXBORO — Bill Belichick did something on Sunday against the Chiefs that he hasn't done all season. He challenged a pass interference non-call.

With 3:07 left in the third quarter, Patrick Mahomes hit Sammy Watkins on a five-yard pass that was marked at the Chiefs 40-yard line, giving Kansas City a first down. Belichick challenged the spot, which appeared to be generous, but he challenged the ruling that tight end Travis Kelce did not interfere with Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore.

The overall percentages of that offensive pass interference ruling being overturned were low based on how that play has been officiated this season. Through the first six weeks of the season, only four of 37 (10.8 percent) pass interference challenges were successful. From Week 4 through Week 10, seven weeks of games, coaches lost 32 of 33 pass interference challenges.

Twenty of 87 defensive pass interference calls have been reversed, competition committee chair Rich McKay said at this week's league meetings. That's 23 percent. Overall, there have been 345 replay reviews through Week 14 and "about 47 percent" have been reversed, according to McKay.

Belichick acknowledged in mid-October that it was very difficult to successfully challenge pass interference, which was why he hadn't.

“I think it’s been pretty clear and the league has come out and said, it has to be clear and obvious,” Belichick told WEEI at the time. “What the definition of that is, I’m not sure. But I don’t think there can be much gray area, or it’s not clear and obvious. I haven’t studied all of them, but a lot of the ones that I’ve observed or have been in our games, I can see why they were called the way they were.”

But the fact that Belichick challenged a pass-interference ruling against the Chiefs last weekend signified that he and his staff had been paying attention to recent trends. Through Week 11, only six defensive pass interference penalties were reversed upon review. In the last three weeks, seven defensive pass interference calls have been reversed.

Belichick's challenge for offensive pass interference failed last weekend. He was granted neither the penalty nor the spot against the Chiefs, which came into play later when a N'Keal Harry would-be touchdown could not be reviewed because Belichick was out of challenges after having lost one.

"We challenged both aspects of the play — it’s one challenge, it’s one play," Belichick said. "We challenged the offensive interference and we challenged the spot. It’s exactly what you said it was. When we challenged it, I thought we had a good challenge on both counts."

Perhaps Belichick challenged the non-call for offensive pass interference because . . . why not? If he wanted to challenge the spot, might as well challenge pass interference as well. It's one challenge for two aspects of the play.

But given recent trends, Belichick might've thought he had a good chance of winning the offensive pass interference challenge. That he didn't — even after officials have apparently changed their approach to pass interference reviews — might only further cloud what qualifies as flag-worthy.

There will be three more weeks of information on these calls headed into the postseason, but odds are everyone involved — coaches, players, the league office — would like a little more clarity before the calendar flips to January. Either way, thanks in part to all the confusion this season, there could be marked changes to the review setup for 2020.

“There’s no question there’s been angst,” said McKay, who is president of the Falcons. “I’ve felt the angst. I felt the angst with our team, feel the angst of others. But it’s a new rule. It’s a big change. It’s something we haven’t done before. So I don’t want to prejudge what the outcome could be."

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