By MIKE HERNDON
I do believe if I see another national writer, or anyone for that matter, gush over how great a weekend of NFL games this was, I’m going to throw up.
And if I see another one try to downplay the travesty we saw in New Orleans on Sunday with another “Saints had their chances” argument, I may punch something. Don’t stand too close to me this week.
Yes, the New Orleans Saints could have done any number of things to keep themselves out of a position to have their NFC Championship Game matchup with the Los Angeles Rams snatched away from them on a bad call. They could have scored touchdowns instead of field goals in the first quarter. The line could have protected Drew Brees better. The defense could have done a better job of getting off the field on third down.
But none of that, no matter how many examples you want to trot out, changes that fact that one of the most egregious no-calls any of us can remember did indeed cost the Saints a berth in the Super Bowl.
That one no-call was the difference in winning and losing for New Orleans. It didn’t have to be, if the Saints had done other things better, but it was. And any attempt to paint this picture otherwise is willfully ignoring the obvious.
In case you’ve been under a rock or at your kids’ swim meet all weekend, another look at our latest, ugliest example of NFL refereeing malpractice:
You can argue, I suppose, that the Rams might have stopped New Orleans on three plays from the 5. But the Saints would have at least been able to drain much of the clock before kicking a field goal. With the Saints sitting at first-and-goal and less than two minutes to play, the probability meter for a Rams comeback would have been far in the red.
There are some, as there always are, who suggest a horribly blown call like this is evidence the game was fixed. A Super Bowl involving a team from Los Angeles will help build interest in the nation’s second-largest city, which now has two teams after years of having none. Others have noted that two members of the officiating crew are from the Los Angeles area.
But I tend to side with those, like ESPN’s KC Joyner, who view NFL officiating through the lens of Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Or in this case, by incompetence.
After all, the refs also missed what looked like a facemask on New Orleans in the red zone on a Rams possession that ended in a field goal, though that call wasn’t as obvious as the one that doomed the Saints.
And New Orleans isn’t the only team whose season was ended prematurely by horrible officiating. The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and out-of-control egos weren’t the only reason. Two missed calls on Chargers scoring plays cost the Steelers a game against Los Angeles’s other team and two – count ‘em, TWO — highly questionable interference calls against Joe Haden on fourth-down plays cost them a game against these very same Saints. At 9-6-1, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs by a half-game.
Here’s the one that essentially cost them the game. Close, but wrong:
And another one on another fourth-down play early in the game that’s even more ridiculous:
Look, no one’s denying that refereeing an NFL game is a tough job. It’s a fast game, and referees are human. Mistakes are going to happen.
So why aren’t we doing more to correct them when they do?
Instant replay has helped erase some of these mistakes since it was first implemented in 1986, but the NFL has refused to allow pass interference calls to be reviewable as “judgment calls.” Stevie Wonder could have listened to the crack of Nickell Robey-Coleman’s helmet against that of Tommylee Lewis and then heard the thud of the ball falling to the Superdome turf and known the hit was early. And yes, the league office not only acknowledged that the call was blown, but that it was helmet-to-helmet.
If the judgment of this crew of referees was that Robey-Coleman wasn’t early, that judgment is flawed. And it needs to be corrected.
If there is anything left to the idea of integrity in this game, it’s time to make these calls (and no-calls) reviewable – particularly in the last two minutes of a game. NFL rules already allow for the box to initiate reviews in the final two minutes of a half. Extend that to pass interference calls. And give coaches the right to challenge them during the rest of the game.
I don’t care if it makes games last five hours. Get it right. Careers are on the line. And let’s not kid ourselves, the league’s reputation – which has been taking a beating for some time now – is also at stake.
There have been other horrible calls that spurred the league to action. The no-fumble call in the 2001 divisional playoff game between the Patriots and Raiders led the NFL to take steps to fix the inane “tuck rule.” And a series of comically bad incomplete pass calls – most notably on plays by Dallas’ Dez Bryant in 2014 and Pittsburgh’s Jesse James last year – resulted in an adjustment to the NFL’s catch rule.
The NFL appears to be listening now as well. The Washington Post reported Monday that the league’s competition committee is planning to consider making pass interference calls and non-calls reviewable.
As a wise man once said: Make it so.
In the meantime, terrible officiating ruined what should have been a great weekend of football, and we are left with the choice of rooting for Belichick’s Evil Empire or what I can’t help but feel like is an illegitimate NFC champion in the Super Bowl. I believe I will choose Door No. 3: Netflix.
(Photo via Twitter/@WWLTV)