On Saturday night, as the Saints were trying to run out the clock with a 17-point lead on the doorstep of the Detroit end zone, quarterback Drew Brees took a knee with 38 seconds left on fourth down. Instead of the clock stopping and the Lions getting a chance to cut the final score from 45-28 to 45-35, the seconds continued to tick, and the game ended.
The NFL has acknowledged that the Saints got a fifth down, but the league believes that no mistake was made.
“It was a common-sense judgment call by Tony Corrente, the referee,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT via email. “After that fourth-down kneel by Brees, both teams on the field started shaking hands, both teams on the sidelines started coming on to the field. The Lions clearly had no intention of running a play. The officials would have had to clear the field and bring both teams back out for the purpose of Detroit taking a knee. It is not considered a mistake by the officials.”
It’s a fair explanation. Though I haven’t personally seen the Lions’ official playbook, I suspect that the “17-point play” section is fairly thin.
But it’s a prime example of why the NFL will continue to spend millions of dollars to oppose efforts to further legalize betting on pro football. In this specific case, a last-second meaningless touchdown by the Lions would have allowed Detroit to fall within the 11-point spread. And it would have made the Lions’ apparent unwillingness to run a play and the officials’ decision not to force them to run a play more glaring. Which would have resulted in criticism and/or allegations that someone on the inside wanted to ensure that the Saints would cover.
As long as gambling on NFL games is illegal, the league won’t have to answer questions about officiating errors and/or why officials aren’t full-time employees and/or whether anyone involved in the process is on the take in some way. The moment that gambling would be legalized on a widespread basis, those questions would arise far more often — forcing the league to spend more time and money and effort dealing with matters that often have no bearing on the outcome of a game.