Packers exploring 2019 preseason game in Canada

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PHOENIX – The Green Bay Packers are currently in discussions to play a 2019 preseason game against the Oakland Raiders in Canada, Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy confirmed on Tuesday.

"We're in discussions. This would be the Raiders' home game," Murphy said. "Still kind of up in the air. But it's a possibility that we would either play most likely in Saskatchewan or Winnipeg."

The Packers have previously played in two international preseason games. In 1997, the Packers defeated the Buffalo Bills in an exhibition game in Toronto's SkyDome in Canada. The following preseason, Green Bay won a matchup in overtime over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Tokyo Dome in Japan.

Packers WR Antonio Freeman (86) dances into the end zone with the Packers against the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 16, 1997, at SkyDome in Toronto.
Packers WR Antonio Freeman (86) dances into the end zone with the Packers against the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 16, 1997, at SkyDome in Toronto.

Owners vote to make pass interference, including non-calls, eligible for review

NFL owners voted on Tuesday night to allow coaches to challenge offensive or defensive pass interference in a game, even if there is no flag on the play. The rule change was only put into place for the 2019 season. Reviews will continue to be subject to booth review in the final two minutes of each half.

The compromise comes after NFL coaches pushing for the league this week to add a sky judge to call or correct penalties in real time as an eighth official. Murphy feels the same will be accomplished by allowing coaches to challenge pass interference calls and having New York review.

"I thought it was going to be really difficult to find something that would get – you need 24 votes to pass a rule change, and we ended up 31-1," Murphy said. "I think it was a good compromise. We heard the coaches."

The desire for change was influenced by a critical non-call in the NFC Championship Game, when Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman appeared to interfere with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis on a pivotal incompletion in the waning moments of the game.

"When you look at the statistics, those calls have a huge impact, especially defensive pass interference," Murphy said. "To focus there made a lot of sense."

Murphy, who also serves on the league's competition committee, understands there may be other calls/non-calls teams will want to make reviewable in the future, but the league wanted to make a measured approach in introducing this type of legislation into NFL law.

“The reason we focused on pass interference, we all wanted to walk before we started to run, and we didn’t want to do too much,” Murphy said. “When you look at the statistics, those calls have a huge impact, especially defensive pass interference, huge impact on the game. To focus there made a lot of sense.”

Murphy believes the changes should breed more consistency on pass-interference calls with the head of NFL officiating, Al Riveron, in New York consulting the officials on the field instead of having separate “eye-in-the-sky” officials in each stadium.

High on the list of reasons for interference becoming a part of the challenge system inside two minutes was due to the potential problems of officiating Hail Marys on replay.

Murphy was had concerns most tightly-contested games would end with offenses fishing for a pass interference call on challenges following incomplete Hail Mary attempts.

Like previous measures, the NFL is testing this on a one-year basis and will review at next year's NFL Owners Meetings.

“Really at the end people realized we couldn’t get everything,” Murphy said. “There’s probably a good chance as we go forward there will be other calls where people say, ‘Geez, he was offsides, that was really clear,’ but that’s not something you can challenge now.”

One change the owners voted to make permanent Tuesday evening was the keep the new kickoff rules, which were on a one-year trial. Murphy said concussions went down 29 percent overall on the play last season.

However, a byproduct of the modified kickoff rules was it became increasingly difficult for teams to recover on-side kicks, with coverage players getting only a one-yard running start and kickoff units being required to keep five players on each side of the field instead of overloading.

According to Murphy, only four of 52 attempts were recovered in 2018, down about 50 percent. For that reason, Murphy was in favor of a measure Denver introduced to move towards a fourth-and-15, but owners shot it down.

“I was a little surprised there wasn’t enough support to pass the fourth and 15 proposal,” Murphy said. “It’s a little gimmicky. But that’s something that we’ll have to continue to monitor.”

Owners also tabled a vote until May’s meetings on allowing both teams to possess the ball in overtime. Murphy still favors the current rule, which ends a game if the first team scores a touchdown on its initial possession and allows the other team to possess the ball if a field goal is scored.

The problem, Murphy feels, is overtime is only 10 minutes now. If the first team gets the ball and scores after an eight-minute series, the second would be essentially forced to run a two-minute drill to match it.

“You probably would have had to add more time to the overtime,” Murphy said, “and then you end up kind of back where we were, concerned about injuries. And particularly if you’re a team that plays a full overtime and has to turn around and play a Thursday game.”

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