Is the NFL out to get the Saints? After further review…
It’s January 20, 2019 … NFC Championship Game … Mercedes-Benz Superdome … Saints and Rams tied at 20 … Less than two minutes to play … Saints face a third and 10 at the L.A. 13.
Let’s go to the play-by-play:
“Drew Brees drops back to pass, looking for Tommylee Lewis at the sideline and there’s contact from Nickell Robey-Coleman and the pass is incomplete. Looked like he was hit early. Let’s go to the replay … Oh my God!”
Robey-Coleman was way early. In fact, one would be hard pressed to go through the entire NFL Films archives, back to John Facenda, back to Lombardi and the Packers back to the advent of television to find a more egregious example of pass interference, not to mention the equally blatant helmet-to-helmet violation by the defensive back. But no flag.
What in the name of matriculating down the field is going on here?
You know the rest: Instead running the clock down to nothin’ and kicking a game-winning field goal and heading off to Atlanta for the Super Bowl, the Saints had to kick a field goal then and there. The Rams came back to kick a tying field goal, then a winner in overtime and they were off to Atlanta.
NFL suits immediately told Saints coach Sean Payton what hundreds of millions of eyeballs spotted instantaneously – that the officials blew it. Robey-Coleman confessed, almost gleefully. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged the failure – a mere 10 days later.
There were frivolous lawsuits and conspiracy theories and mostly anger and frustration. The NFL got the desultory Super Bowl that it deserved as the Patriots beat the Rams.
New Orleans, meanwhile, did perhaps the most New Orleans thing ever and mostly boycotted the Super Bowl broadcast, instead throwing its own Super Bowl party without inviting the Patriots or the Rams: “Screw us? Well screw it, we’re throwing a party.”
But the conspiracy theories lingered into the off-season. The NFL and especially Goodell were out to get the Saints.
The thought that the NFL had intentionally cost the Saints the game conjured memories of the movie “All the President’s Men.” Woodward and Bernstein continue to write story after story about Watergate while most of the rest of the news media ignores it. Ben Bradlee asks his trusted Foreign Editor what he thinks of the story that the Nixon White House is engaged in massive corruption and cover-up and the Foreign Editor says he doesn’t believe it. “Why would they do it?” he asks about a White House facing certain re-election.
Why would the NFL do it? Something to do with payback for Bountygate? Nah. Heck, Goodell came down hard on Payton and the Saints for that and given the league’s track record on looking the other way on off-the-field misconduct by players, the Commissioner would figure to be grateful to Payton and the Saints for providing him an opportunity to look like he was actually cracking down on bad behavior.
Besides the logistics of planning such a hijacking of a game would be way too impractical to ever happen.
And so the NFL changes its replay rules during the off-season to provide an avenue to possibly correct an egregious pass interference infraction that goes uncalled in the future.
Meanwhile the Saints went back to work getting ready for the 2019 season, trying to put the no-call behind them even as their fans continued to seethe.
Now it’s Sept. 9 … Opening night … Monday Night Football … Saints-Texans … Superdome.
NFL fans are tuning in – just in the unlikely event that somehow something else might happen with the Saints and the officials.
It’s late in the first half and Saints are trying to beat the clock and score. Brees completes a pass to Michael Thomas at the sideline and the booth initiates a review of the catch and the spot, both of which are resolved in New Orleans’ favor – a catch and a first down.
But the officials “inadvertently” in their words botch the clock, costing the Saints 15 seconds, which is about how long it takes FOX officiating guru Mike Pereira to tweet the timing snafu. The Saints try a 56-yard field goal as time expires and Wil Lutz is wide left.
Ultimately the lost opportunity to move closer for Lutz doesn’t make much difference when Lutz hits a 58-yarder on the last play of the game to give New Orleans a 30-28 victory.
Though nearly eight months passes in between, that’s two straight games with elemental mistakes by the officials that go against the Saints.
But why would they do it?
Now it’s back to L.A. for a rematch of the NFC Championship.
Second quarter … score tied at 3 … Rams threatening to score.
Let’s go to the play-by-play:
“Jared Goff back to pass, Trey Hendrickson hits him. The ball comes loose. Picked up for the Saints by Cameron Jordan. He’s running up the sideline. Man he looks fast for a defensive lineman. There isn’t a Ram near him. Oh, no they didn’t. They couldn’t have …”
But they did. Inadvertent whistle. Rams gave up on the play because it was over. Upon further review it was a fumble. Coulda, woulda, shoulda been a New Orleans touchdown if the referee had adhered to the basic officiating rule that you don’t blow the whistle when it’s not clear whether a loose ball came from a fumble or a forward pass.
But he didn’t.
Three straight games. Three elementary blunders. All three go against New Orleans. Two favor the Rams.
But why would they do it?
To promote the Rams so they succeed in a soft market that the NFL has salivated over for decades?
Next you’ll be telling me that the NFL owners have blackballed Colin Kaepernick or that the league hid information connecting the violence of the game with brain trauma.
After further review, the original ruling of the NFL not picking on the Saints …
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…