Firstly, we have to acknowledge just how bad this call is. It’s bad. Atrociously bad. Possibly the worst missed call in NFL history. But were they “robbed”? No, they weren’t.
No matter how big the play, the Saints had more than enough opportunity to put the game to bed, including first possession in overtime, but Drew Brees threw a pick and that is what killed the game.
Yes, it can be argued that it shouldn’t have got that far; a first down after that pass interference potentially could have ended the game, but you don’t know that. That’s not a sure thing – for all we know Wil Lutz could have stepped up for the field goal and missed, or it could have been blocked, or any other number of potential errors, including an interception. With 30 seconds on the clock, the Rams could have scored.
Yes, again, it was pass interference, helmet to helmet contact, and it should have been called, but also, go and watch the play from behind Drew Brees and look at the lineman on his left after the snap – he is clearly holding the facemask of the pass-rusher. And to Brees’ right, there’s a lineman holding the shoulder of the other defensive lineman, and it looks tipped which makes it impossible to call pass interference. Yes, “holds happen every play” as they say, but they get called when they’re seen, and I don’t think it would have been fair to call the pass interference and ignore the holding calls and the tip.
Let’s not forget that if Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman gets his head around, that pass is very much a pick, and after the Saints foolishly chose to throw on the previous first down, how are we to know that if they do indeed get that call that they don’t then go and throw a pick on the next first down? They threw one in OT and that pass interference should have been a pick so it isn’t out of the question. I’m not saying I’m without sympathy for them, it’s just that I don’t think one no call is the entire reason the Saint aren’t in the Super Bowl.
There are rumblings, there are narrowed eyes, there are question marks over the integrity of the league, and I can understand why, even if I don’t agree with it.
Fans are invested in their teams. There’s a ferocious loyalty in the NFL that you don’t see in many other sports. A passion that elevates every single play to a level akin to the climactic scenes of a blockbuster movie. Brees is Brad Pitt in Seven, unboxing an interception in overtime and leaving the fans wishing they could go back a few scenes and catch Kevin Spacey on the stairs. But they can’t. No amount of loyalty is going to change the outcome of this game, the calls to replay the game are just absurd.
For me it comes down to recency bias – a few minutes before that no call there’s a facemask on Jared Goff that would have given the Rams a first and goal and an excellent chance at going 24-20 up, but that wasn’t called either.
There were actually multiple other calls that hurt the Rams: the delay of game that wasn’t flagged which lead to a Saints touchdown; a facemask on Brandin Cooks that was also missed; and someone got their head trodden on, but because those didn’t happen at the death of the game, they’re not questioned, and when something happened in a game shouldn’t be a factor – if it’s an infraction, it should be called. It’s that simple.
In playoff games there seems to be this idea of letting them play. I’ve heard Tony Romo (and countless others) say, “oh, man, they’re really letting them play!” Well, they’re infractions, though.
Allowing cornerbacks to get handsy with receivers certainly isn’t letting the receivers play, is it? I know it makes the game exciting, but it’s giving the cornerbacks a free rein to skirt the rules of the game. It’s the same infraction – just because it’s more obvious and the officials didn’t call it, it doesn’t make it any more of a pass interference than any other pass interference that gets missed, and a lot of them get missed. It should have been called but it wasn’t, and I have no idea whatsoever how the side judge missed it, but he did.
So, what can we do about it? Can we change the rules to make pass interference reviewable?
The short answer is yes. Should we make it reviewable? Yes, but don’t be surprised that even with reviewable PI calls/no calls that we end up in the same situation.
Okay, so theorise that the current rules have been amended before the Rams-Saints game and continue to humour me that the rule change is as followed – one extra challenge and you can challenge any single play in the game.
So, Payton throws a flag after that no call and they review it and indeed call it for a personal foul or pass interference penalty, but whilst they’re reviewing it, Sean McVay reviews it, too (if they haven’t already used it on the facemask on Goff). He spots the tip and the holds at the line, and goes, “whoa now! I want you to look at these things now, please!” And they do, and then they call those things and at the very best it’s a re-played down and not an automatic first down at the spot of the foul. If those infractions aren’t called, do we end up in a situation where the Saints do get a first down, but the Rams feel hard done by because even though the play was reviewed, they got no calls for two holds and the tip? Maybe we can amend the rule so that we can only question the specific actions of those directly involved in the play, i.e., Michael Thomas and Robey-Coleman, but is that even fair? I’m sure as a Rams fan you wouldn’t think so.
We’d then have the Rams fans saying that the league is against them, favouring the Saints, and that despite the review they still didn’t call it correctly, calling for the game to be replayed, and suing the NFL. Where does it end?
The most telling part of this is a little snippet of Benjamin Watson’s tweet to Commissioner Goodell , “We all realize that football is an imperfect game, played, coached and officiated by imperfect people”, and isn’t that the magic of sport? Sport hurts sometimes, it really hurts, but losing the human impact, no matter if it’s negative, makes for a poor sport.
Mistakes and blown calls make for debate and excitement, so don’t expect the league changes to be drastic, because they certainly won’t want to lose that.