COLUMN: Saints robbery impossible to understand

Drew Brees and the Saints should, by all rights, have one more game this season.

Disgusting.

That’s the one word that keeps cropping up in my mind when I think back to the final minutes of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

For the first time in league history, the NFC runner-up is headed to the Super Bowl. At least, that’s how it stands in my mind.

It’s mind-boggling how any official — let alone multiple officials — could watch that play and make ANY ARGUMENT that Nickell Robey-Coleman did not commit pass interference — and blatant pass interference at that. That is a call that’s made 150 out of 150 times, and that’s to say nothing about the personal foul element with helmet to helmet contact.

I was there Sunday, and let me tell you, I have never heard the Superdome make quite that sound before. That building has been filled with joy, filled with rage, filled with disbelief … all of it over the years, and that was the howl of a building that simply could not understand two things: Why are you doing this to us, and how could you do this to us, so brazenly, out in the open.

Any fanbase would have scars from this. For the New Orleans Saints, it cuts as deep as it would for just about anyone else. As much as we cherish our 2009 World Champion Saints, a Super Bowl berth is simply not something we’ve ever been able to take for granted, and to have one flushed down the toilet — seemingly willfully — is a blow I’m not sure everyone will soon recover from, if at all. In fact, I know for at least some, that may be lights out for their faith in and support of the NFL.

I’d say that no team has endured back-to-back playoff losses in more devastating fashion, but part of me feels it disrespectful to refer to the Saints to say they ‘lost’ Sunday’s game.

I’ve heard some counterarguments. Here’s my rebuttal to each …

“One call doesn’t decide a game.” The heck it doesn’t – that was a game-ender and it was obvious. If the officials had given the Saints three points for Greg Zeurlein’s 57 yard game-winner, would you argue the Rams shouldn’t have let it get to overtime?

This was no ordinary “blown” call. Everyone saw what happened and you cannot convince me those officials just “missed” what happened. For whatever reason, they elected to let it stand. Bad calls and non-calls happen all the time, but this was the kind of special situation that begs the question, if this is allowed to stand, where is the line? Is there a line?

“The Saints had their chances and should have finished the job earlier or in overtime.” If you’re a coach, sure, this is what you hope to instill in your players. But outside of the team setting, to me, that’s kind of disrespectful to not just the Saints, but the Rams too. The Saints led throughout that game against a VERY strong Rams team. For all the “should have converted redzone touchdowns, should have managed the clock, coulda shoulda woulda …” yeah, that can be true, but it also ignores the Rams too are trying to win a football game. The Rams also failed to convert half their redzone trips for touchdowns.

The Saints are not playing Tetris. They’re competing with a very formidable opponent, and you know what? They led the entire game. You get credit for building a lead, not just holding it.

Back to the call itself …

I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out the motivation behind the non-call. Ultimately, it falls under one of two headings: malice or incompetence.

The argument for malice: the Los Angeles conspiracy. Two officials who live in the Los Angeles area. The desire to hook the L.A. market before their palace of a new stadium opens up and asks a small fortune of every ticket buyer. The desire to rake in the absolute highest revenue possible from these upcoming Super Bowl advertisers.

The NFL has good reason to want L.A. in the Super Bowl. Would they be so arrogant to do so in such a blatant manner, though? Maybe. Twitter, Facebook and all social media tends to light up after a high-profile trainwreck. All the discussion surrounds the NFL. Controversy generates cash. Maybe the league is pushing things to see just how much they can get away with.

Ask yourself … in a million years, does this go down against New England?

Or …

Incompetence. But not in the “official didn’t see what happened” way … I think that’s just about impossible, given the play in question and number of referees around it. Maybe it’s more accurate to call it fear.

This was a game where I think it was fairly obvious the officials “let them play” throughout. Almost all of the penalties called through the first three quarters were things like false starts, offsides and delay of game (sometimes). Rather non-subjective things. The one holding call of the day came against the Saints in the fourth quarter. The one pass interference penalty came in overtime … a few plays too late … against the Rams.

Which makes me wonder … was this a crew decision, or a mandate from the league to “let the players decide the outcome.” If your boss’ words are ringing in your ear that it will be frowned upon to decide things on a flag, and you have the scenario come up that requires you do just that … is it possible three officials just look at each other, say ‘I’m not taking the heat’ and roll on?

Control freak management that asks you focus on a result and not the task at hand seems like a staple of the NFL over the years, and I could see that possibility here.

I started this week thinking malice. I haven’t ruled it out. But I’m starting to lean toward option B, and the Saints — of course — deal with the consequences.

In neither case is it remotely acceptable, nor was that non-call decision made for the right reasons. Indecision is, indeed, a decision, and the decision was to take what the Saints had earned.

The worst part of all of this is we’re simply left holding the bag. Firing the official, making penalties reviewable (why? It was clear as day) … none of it will restore a Super Bowl season, which is what every team, coach and fanbase dreams of.

Again, it’s disgusting. And the effects could be felt by our franchise for years to come.

About Ryan Arena 1612 Articles
Sports Editor

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