The Los Angeles Rams advanced to the Super Bowl with a 26-23 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints - the first game of a wild semifinal Sunday that started a debate about rules that happen to be different in the CFL.
Greg Zuerlein kicked the game-winning 57-yard field goal after forcing overtime with a 48-yard boot late in the fourth quarter thanks in large part to a blown call in the quarter.
On third-and-10 inside the Rams' 15-yard line, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw a pass toward receiver Tommylee Lewis. But Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman not only didn't turn his head to see the ball, but delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Lewis at about the five-yard line before it arrived.
Amazingly, no flag was thrown. Had a penalty been called, New Orleans would've received a fresh set of downs and the chance to run the clock down and kick a short game-winning field goal.
Wil Lutz's 31-yard field goal put the Saints ahead 23-20 but St. Louis got the ball at its 25-yard line with 1:41 remaining and drove for a tying field goal.
Saints head coach Sean Payton was incensed with the non-call, but could do nothing about it. Had this happened in a CFL game, Payton would've had an opportunity to challenge the play.
CFL teams can make one challenge per game so long as they have at least one timeout. If the challenge is unsuccessful, a timeout is charged. But a team keeps the timeout if the challenge is successful.
Regardless of the outcome, no other challenges can be made. So under CFL rules, Payton would've still had to have his challenge and at least one timeout to have the play reviewed.
Black, entering his 11th CFL season with the Argos, expects the NFL to look hard at making pass interference a reviewable offence.
"I think this will spur change in the NFL,'' said Black, a two-time Grey Cup champion. "I think you'll see the review of this because of that play.
"But I'd want it to go both ways. If there's offensive pass interference then you can challenge it and if there's defensive pass interference then you could do that too.''
In 2014, the CFL became the first football league to make pass interference reviewable. That came after Hamilton defensive back Evan McCollough wasn't called for contacting Montreal receiver Duron Carter in the end zone late in the Tiger-Cats' 19-16 overtime win in the '13 East Division semifinal.
Instead of getting the ball at the Hamilton one-yard line, Montreal had to settle for a game-tying field goal. Coaches initially had two challenges but that number was reduced to one in 2017.
In the 2015 Grey Cup, a successful challenge by head coach Chris Jones helped Edmonton beat Ottawa 26-20 in Winnipeg. Jones challenged an incompletion that was changed to pass interference and put the Esks on the Redblacks 10-yard line.
That set up Jordan Lynch's one-yard TD run with 3:22 remaining and Mike Reilly's completion to Akeem Shavers for the two-point convert to erase a 20-18 deficit.
Glen Johnson, the former CFL official who later served as the league's director of officiating, said there was no doubt Robey-Coleman interfered with Lewis.
"I did (expect a flag to be thrown).'' Johnson said. "Absolutely (it was pass interference) and I say that with all empathy for the official because people just don't know until they're out there just how hard it is.
"As an official, way back I went from not liking (replay) to feeling it was a really good tool to help us. And when I went into management I went, 'This is absolutely mandatory to protect the integrity of the game.'''
The AFC championship game wasn't immune from criticism, either, and it too revolved around a rule unique to the NFL. The New England Patriots, after winning the coin toss for overtime, marched 80 yards on 15 plays - capped by Rex Burkhead's two-yard TD run - to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 295 yards and three TDs in regulation, never touched the field in the extra session. In the CFL, both teams get the ball in overtime. In the NFL, a touchdown ends the game.
That prompted Calgary Stampeders punter Rob Maver to tweet: "I say this as an objective viewer: the NFL's overtime rules are complete and utter garbage.''
But Nik Lewis, the CFL's all-time receptions leader (1,051) now in his first season as the B.C. Lions running backs coach, likes the NFL's overtime policy during the regular season, But he thinks both teams should get the ball in the playoffs.
"It's a battle to earn the right to go to the next stage,'' he said. "Really, the coin toss decides the game.''
Black supports the NFL's OT format.
"If you drive 80 yards and score a touchdown, tell me why the New England Patriots don't deserve to go to the Super Bowl,'' he said. "If New England had to kick a field goal, Mahomes gets the ball back and the Chiefs get an opportunity to march down the field.
"If they score a TD, we're sitting here talking about how amazing a 23-year-old kid is who's taking his team to the Super Bowl. I don't think there has ever been or will ever be another combination like Tom Brady and (Pats coach) Bill Belichick.''
However, it was the non-call in the NFC contest that drew the most attention. Like Black, Johnson believes the incident will move the NFL closer to allowing coaches to challenge pass interference.
"I hope it does,'' he said. "I hope it serves as good dialogue for the rules committee.''
But Johnson believes the CFL's challenge system could be tweaked.
"The hardest part in figuring all of this out is you want a system, method or approach you can get to that leaves you that challenge for that moment,'' Johnson said. "Had we not had two (challenges) in the '15 Grey Cup, they might not have had that other challenge to use late in the game to fix that PI.
"I think fundamentally there has to be a system to use replay to get egregious calls fixed. The officials want it, the fans want it, the coaches want it. Everybody wants it.''
Lewis, though, doesn't see it that way.
"The reason is it's never consistent, they're judgment calls,'' said Lewis. "There's not a consistent rule on pass interference so I think it's very hard to decide which is interference and which isn't.
"But there's no doubt that play was pass interference.''
Still, Lewis said the Saints could've made the play moot by scoring TDs in a dominant first half rather than settling for field goals.
"As a player or coach, you know there's going to be calls for and against you that are borderline,'' he said. "So you don't want to put yourself in that situation (where game is decided by officials' call).''
Jim Daley, a former head coach with Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, said with CFL coaches having just one challenge, a viable option could be having the replay official buzzing the game official when there's an obvious miss.
"It was a huge mistake, an obvious mistake and (NFL) has already admitted that,'' he said. "Now the challenge is how do you polish up your processes so you can address it in-game?
"In the CFL if you've already used your challenge, you're not challenging that play anyway. I just think there might be a process where a review official who's away from the heat of the game but sees the whole picture can somehow reach the game official and review it.''
(Canadian Press/Dan Ralph)