Football fans throughout Louisiana, at least most of them, are still steaming mad about the no-call which kept the Saints from Super Bowl LIII.
The outrage has extended well past the Saints players, coaches, front office and owner Gayle Benson. It’s reached the point where the New Orleans City Council drafted a resolution condemning the no-call, and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is drafting a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking him to take a look into overturning the result, or at least ordering a replay.
Edwards and other politicians should be commended for their love of the Saints and their willingness to do anything to support one of two professional sports franchises to call Louisiana home.
Sadly, it isn’t going to do anything. The Rams are on their way to Atlanta to face the Patriots, and the Saints and their fans can only wonder what if.
The play in question occurred with less than two minutes remaining in the NFC championship game and the score tied 20-20. With it third and 10 and the Saints on the Rams’ 13-yard line, Drew Brees threw a short pass into the right flat intended for Tommylee Lewis.
Before Lewis could move to his right in order to catch the pass, Rams safety Nickell Robey-Coleman barreled full speed into Lewis with a helmet-to-helmet hit with left the ball to flutter incomplete.
The Saints had to settle for a Will Lutz field goal to give them the lead, but there was still 1:41 remaining when the Rams began their next possession, more than enough time for Jared Goff to drive his team to a game-tying field goal by Greg Zeurlein.
New Orleans won the overtime coin toss, but on the Saints’ third play of the extra period, Los Angeles’ Dante Fowler came in untouched on Brees, forcing a flutterball which was intercepted by the Rams’ John Johnson at the Los Angeles 46.
The Rams picked up one first down before stalling at the Saints’ 39. A 57-yard field goal is out of the range of many NFL kickers, but Zeurlein drove it home with plenty of room to spare, sending the Rams to their first Super Bowl since 2001, and the first for the Los Angeles Rams since 1979.
Back to the no-call.
I think Sean Payton should have ran the ball on first down and third down and forced the Rams to exhaust their timeouts. Los Angeles had two timeouts at the two-minute warning, and the Saints would have been able to bleed 40 more seconds off the clock after third down. Even if the Saints lost 10 yards on three plays and taken a 5-yard delay of game penalty, it still would have been well within Lutz’ range.
That said, Payton has a Super Bowl ring and more wins than any previous Saints coach, so I defer to his judgement. He is paid $9 million per year to call the shots.
While we will never know how the game would have turned out had Robey-Coleman been flagged–either for defensive pass interference (DPI) or a helmet-to-helmet hit.
It is indefensible, however, that a flag was not dropped.
One of the cardinal rules of playing pass defense is the defender must play the ball, not the receiver. At no level of football–Pop Warner, high school, college, professional–is a defender allowed to simply go after the receiver. I’m certain every elementary officiating training video shows a defender playing the man and not the ball is obvious DPI.
Robey-Coleman did not turn his head once he started flying towards Lewis. His eyes were pointed in one direction and one direction only, at the player wearing black jersey #11.
For a split second, it appeared Robey-Coleman might be called out for his misdeed.
Down judge (head linesman in other levels of football; it was changed by the NFL to down judge because Sarah Thomas now officiates that position) Patrick Turner had his hand on his penalty flag, which was in his belt on his right hip. However, he took his hand off the flag and signaled incomplete.
The question is, did Turner decide himself to keep his flag in his belt, or did he have help in making the no-call?
Two officials are stationed on each sideline. The head linesman/down judge and side judge work one side, and the line judge and field judge the other. The linesman and line judge are stationed at the line of scrimmage, and the field judge and side judge are 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.
I am wondering if Turner caught the eye of side judge Gary Cavaletto as he had his hand on the flag and changed his mind because of something Cavaletto communicated to him, either by voice or eye contact.
Turner and Cavaletto blew it, as did back judge Todd Prukop, who had a clear angle of the play from the middle of the field 25 yards deep.
Turner had no guts. If he threw the flag, it probably would have prompted a conference between the seven-man crew led by Bill Vinovich. If Vinovich and his mates opted to overrule Turner, then so be it, but Turner would have showed courage to do the right thing and make a gutsy call when guts are in short supply. Instead, Turner swept it under the rug.
Cavaletto and Prukop have both officiated in Super Bowls. This was Cavaletto’s 13th postseason assignment. This was Turner’s first conference championship game, and sadly, it could be his last NFL game, period.
The first cardinal rule of officiating is you have to see it before you call it, so phantom calls are always a big no-no with the NFL. Yet missing something so obvious is just as bad.
How could Turner, Cavaletto and Prukop NOT see a foul? Robey-Coleman should have been called for either DPI or a personal foul. Either way, the Saints get a fresh set of downs, they can milk the clock, then call in Lutz to kick them to Atlanta the same way Garrett Hartley kicked New Orleans to Miami nine years ago.
Two former NFL Vice Presidents of Officiating, Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, said the officials blew it. So did Terry McAulay, the referee for Super Bowls XXXIX, XLIII and XLVIII. Current NFL Vice President of Officiating Alberto Riveron told Payton the call was blown minutes after the game ended.
I do not like the direction of football in 2018. I do not like shootouts. I do not like pass defenders having so many restrictions placed upon them. I do not like defenders who are flagged for roughing the passer for ticky-tack things which would never have been called 20 years ago.
On the other hand, if it is egregious, it has to be called. The same way as a pitch which comes into a batter at his feet or his neck must be called a ball. The same way a hockey player who swings his stick at an opponent must be called for slashing. The same way Lionel Messi must be awarded a penalty kick if he is tackled in the penalty area when he is one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Yes, officiating requires good judgement, the same way the men and women in black robes requires it. Yet there are some areas which are black and white. Nickell Robey-Coleman bulldozing Tommylee Lewis was black and white. And the men in the black and white stripes failed miserably.
Robey-Coleman is fortunate the NFL does not have the NCAA’s targeting rule. In college, the replay official may buzz the referee if he sees forcible contact to the head or neck area that the officials on the field did not call. The player can be ejected for targeting based upon the replay official’s recommendation., Certainly Robey-Coleman would have been banished had the college rule been in effect.
The Rams-Patriots Super Bowl does not interest me. I saw this crap 17 years ago. Only this time, Brady and Belichick are heavy favorites against a second year quarterback, not the other way around. If the Patriots win, they’ll piss everyone off except those living in New England, Colin Cowherd and those who think Brady is the greatest thing to hit football. If the Rams win, it’s tainted.