Rams-Saints fiasco still lingers, three years ago

NFC Championship - Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints
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For all the blunders that NFL officiating has provided in recent years, none was more notorious and inexcusable than the one that occurred three years ago today, in New Orleans. Making matters worse was the clumsy and ineffective way in which the NFL handled the aftermath of a bad call that sent the wrong team to the Super Bowl.

The NFC Championship was tied at 20. The fourth-quarter clock showed one minute, 49 seconds.  The Saints had the ball on the Rams’ 13, facing third and 10.

Just before the snap, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman realized he was badly out of position. He sprinted across the field to pick up his man, and he wiped out New Orleans receiver Tommylee Lewis just before the pass from Drew Brees arrived.

The officials on the field failed to call defensive pass interference. The Saints settled for a field goal, the Rams scored a field goal of their own before the end of regulation, and the Rams won in overtime.

As we argued then, the league office should have used its real-time replay-review pipeline to instruct the on-field officials to drop the flag. Yes, it would have violated internal procedures and protocols. It also would have avoided a shitstorm that tarnished Super Bowl LIII.

If then-V.P. of officiating Al Riveron had instructed referee Bill Vinovich to drop a flag, who would have cared? Even if someone had eventually admitted to the fact that the pipeline was employed in a way that it shouldn’t have been used, who would have been upset by that? Pass interference happened. Pass interference should have been called.

The league later overreacted to the situation, making all forms of pass interference calls and non-calls subject to replay review for 2019. Riveron employed a Magic 8 Ball standard, hopping around from hypertechnical to commonsensical to eventually settling on an approach that overturned only the most egregious failures. The league decided after only one season to pull the plug on the process, reverting to the exact same rules that were in place for the ill-fated postseason game between the Rams and Saints.

The next time something like this happens, will 345 Park Avenue exercise its prerogative to tell the referee to drop a flag? Maybe.

The strongest clue arguably comes from the handling of the erroneous whistle in the Raiders-Bengals playoff game. The league grossly misapplied the rule regarding a whistle blown before the completion of a play — and the league then blatantly lied about it, claiming that the whistle came after, not before, Cincinnati receiver Tyler Boyd caught a pass in the end zone.

But what if the league had applied the rulebook as written? The touchdown would not have counted, and the play would have happened again. If the Bengals didn’t score a touchdown, and if they would have gone on to lose, the blowback from the botched whistle would have been much stronger than the criticism from the league’s blatant and deliberate failure to apply the rules as written, and then to weave a tangled web regarding the notion that the whistle came after the catch.

The play didn’t get a much criticism as it should have, because the erroneous whistle changed nothing. With or without it, the Bengals scored a touchdown. Perhaps this shows that, in tough spots, the league is willing to consider which mistake will cause less of a problem.

Three years ago, the league made the wrong choice. Five days ago, the league made the right one. Even if it didn’t happen deliberately, the takeaway should be that, when in similar predicaments in the future, always choose the path that causes less of a commotion.

16 responses to “Rams-Saints fiasco still lingers, three years ago

  1. 2 weeks after the pass interference that was called in the raiders-chargers game…… someone should’ve told the ref to pick up the flag at the end of the first half that definitely changed that game too. chargers shouldve been in the playoffs, not pitt.

  2. Just having someone with some common sense watching the feeds and helping the refs get calls right regardless of what type a call it is is the way to go. Common sense being the most important element. A few years ago, it was NOT common sense when the replay official was overturning every single catch when the ball moved a little as recievers lunged for extra yardage. That was terrible, and I still find it hard to believe that anyone was ever stupid enough to officiate that way.

    But this kind of review should also apply to all calls, even penalties. I don’t think coaches should be able to challenge penalties, but the replay booth guy should be able to give on-field officials proper guidance as long as it doesn’t slow the game down. The expedited review system they have now is working pretty well. Just expand it to cover everything.

  3. That play will never be forgiven.

    The play was to help build a fan base in la for the Rams. Not saying the no call was for the Rams but after the fact they certainly were not gonna do anything about it even if they should have. Follow the money it always has your answer.

    I was at that game and could not comprehend how I could see that plain as day from the cheap seats and they missed it.

    It doesn’t end there the saints have had less flags dropped on opponents since that day by a huge margin. Today on ESPN has an article explaining it. Shockingly the top five teams with the most opponent flags made the playoffs.

  4. The fiasco will remain and we will relive it again and again and until the league wakes up to the need for a sky judge for each game.

  5. This was the first time I thought that the officials wanted one team to win. After that fiasco (where the official the league said was responsible to throw the flag lived in the LA area—I checked at the time), the interception by the Rams in OT near midfield occurred after a defender literally tackled the Saints receiver while the ball was in the air. Check it. Again, no flag. I also know that the league was anxious for the Rams to succeed after relocating to LA. This all resulted in one of the worst Super Bowls this century. An absolutely boring game that wasn’t as close as the 13-3 score.

  6. What the heck happened at the end of the 2015 Cowboys-Lions game? Hitchens could fairly be described as doing any of, and I’m quoting the NFL rulebook now, (c) Grabbing a receiver’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass, (d) Extending an arm across the body of a receiver thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, regardless of whether the defender is playing the ball, or (e) Cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball.Speaking of caving to pressure from the Dallas sideline, the debacle was further exacerbated by the fact that Dez Bryant was not flagged for running out onto the field without his helmet.

  7. It still stings. Love or hate the Saints, we were all denied an epic Brady/Brees Super Bowl and subjected to whatever that was two weeks later.

  8. So much hype about a missed DPI. DPI gets called far too much anyway. Outside of people who hold grudges from New Orleans this play is long consigned to history now.

  9. Saints got jobbed, somewhere in the back of the mind of the officials a seed that had been planted by the league sprouted. There is no other explanation for how this was missed.

  10. ….and the Bill Vinovitch got to fix, I mean ref the Super Bowl the next year for KC. Looks like Vinovitch was doing exactly what he was told to do and didn’t mess anything up from the League’s perspective.

  11. Get rid of the whole bunch of current officials would solve most of the problems. I am 70 years old & have been complaining about terrible officiating & calling for full time officials since the 90’s. If I was the NFL, I would secretly be training full time officials (with a priority on ex NFL & college players who actually understand football) and when the current contract expires politely send these guys on their way.

  12. I’m a life-long Saints fan, and I’m beyond tired of the excuses around this. Sean Payton and his staff blew this game. They had a 13-point lead that should have been 21 had Coach Offensive Genius not bogged down in the red zone early in the game. Then they fell asleep on a fake punt that got the Rams back in the game. And Payton’s clock management before the play in question was atrocious. The game never should have come down to that play.

    Payton routinely botches game management, whether it’s blowing timeouts to challenge plays that obviously won’t be overturned or botching clock management at the end of each half. Drew Brees propped up Payton for 15 years, and that was obvious this season when the Saints’ offense was dead last BEFORE Jameis Winston got hurt. They needed all 17 games to finally score a first-drive TD this year. And I’m tired of Payton getting a pass for his coaching malpractice in this game. No head coach outside of Bill Belichick has more power in his organization. Yet Payton continually gets a pass for only getting to one Super Bowl with Drew Brees. Payton is overrated.

  13. I agree Mike. This was a blatant missed call, and based on the resulting Super Bowl, it’s very likely that the Saints would have beaten the Pats.

  14. Bob says:
    January 20, 2022 at 3:25 pm
    I’m a life-long Saints fan, and I’m beyond tired of the excuses around this. Sean Payton and his staff blew this game. They had a 13-point lead that should have been 21 had Coach Offensive Genius not bogged down in the red zone early in the game. Then they fell asleep on a fake punt that got the Rams back in the game. And Payton’s clock management before the play in question was atrocious. The game never should have come down to that play.

    Payton routinely botches game management, whether it’s blowing timeouts to challenge plays that obviously won’t be overturned or botching clock management at the end of each half. Drew Brees propped up Payton for 15 years, and that was obvious this season when the Saints’ offense was dead last BEFORE Jameis Winston got hurt. They needed all 17 games to finally score a first-drive TD this year. And I’m tired of Payton getting a pass for his coaching malpractice in this game. No head coach outside of Bill Belichick has more power in his organization. Yet Payton continually gets a pass for only getting to one Super Bowl with Drew Brees. Payton is overrated.

    I am also a lifetime Saints fan and basically agree with most of your post.

    On the play before if Brees’ pass to Michael Thomas is 6″ higher instead of at this shoelaces, MT walks in for a TD and the rest is history.

    However, no matter how badly the Saints, (or any team) f’s up a game that doesn’t clear the refs from doing their job and making a call that is so easy to see/call!

    The refs also missed the helmet to helmet hit as well as the DPI.

  15. I’m a Saints season ticket holder and I don’t go in for conspiracy theories. I also don’t go in for opinions of so-called lifelong fans with an ax to grind against a coach with a 63 percent winning percentage lifetime with a franchise that had been in the dumper for most of the previous 40 years before he arrived, who somehow managed to coax a winning record this year out of a team that had to play 58 different players, (the most of any team since 1970) who lost his two best offensive players to injury (Kamara and Thomas), had to start four different QBs, deal with a movement to another city of entire staff on short notice, and has 80 percent of the O-line out to injury at various points. Plus the vagaries of Covid. As for 2018, I’ll never accept any viewpoint other than that no-call kept the Saints from the Super Bowl. The call gets made, as even “lifelong fan” doesn’t deny, the Saints run the clock down (even with two Rams timeouts) to about 15 seconds left, and go to the Super Bowl. I don’t know if the Saints beat NE, but they sure would have scored more than three points.

  16. Yes the no-call was one of the worst ever. But if the defense stops the Rams after kicking the go ahead field goal,the no-call becomes a footnote, like the incidental whistle from Saturday’s game.

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