The owner of the New Orleans Saints issued a statement Monday in which she said her team was “unfairly deprived” of a chance to reach the Super Bowl. Appearing to refer to a key non-call late in the Saints loss' Sunday to the Rams in the NFC championship game, Gayle Benson declared her intention to “aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies to ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again.”
Benson did not get into specifics about what prompted her statement, but given the enormous reaction to the non-call, in which Los Angeles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman plowed into New Orleans wide receiver Tommylee Lewis before a pass arrived but was not flagged for interference, there was little doubt about the source of her concern. The incident occurred on a third-and-10 play with 1:45 left in regulation, and it denied the Saints a first down that could have allowed the team to bleed the clock and kick a potential game-winning field goal with just seconds left.
Instead, New Orleans had to kick a field goal immediately, leaving Los Angeles enough time to come back the other way and get its own field goal to send the game to overtime. From there, the Rams turned a Drew Brees interception into their own game-winning kick, sending them to the Super Bowl against the Patriots and leaving Saints players and fans fuming.
“Yesterday’s result is still difficult to accept for all of us,” Benson said in the statement. “I am thoroughly disappointed by the events that led to the outcome of yesterday’s game. Getting to the Super Bowl is incredibly difficult to do and takes such an unbelievable commitment from a team and support from its fans. No team should ever be denied the opportunity to reach the title game (or simply win a game) based on the actions, or inactions, of those charged with creating a fair and equitable playing field. As is clear to all who watched the game, it is undeniable that our team and fans were unfairly deprived of that opportunity yesterday.
“I have been in touch with the NFL regarding yesterday’s events and will aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies to ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again. It is a disservice to our coaches, players, employees and, most importantly, the fans who make our game possible. The NFL must always commit to providing the most basic of expectations — fairness and integrity.”
The Washington Post’s Mark Maske reported Monday that the NFL plans to “give consideration this offseason to making pass-interference calls subject to instant replay review.” In response to a tweet about the league’s willingness to make such a change, New Orleans tight end Benjamin Watson tweeted, “Or they could simply encourage their referees to call it when it occurs.”
Early Monday morning, Saints star wide receiver Michael Thomas tweeted, “Rule 17 Section 2 Article 3.” That was a reference to an NFL rule regarding “Extraordinarily Unfair Acts,” in which the league’s commissioner is given broad authority to “investigate and take appropriate disciplinary and/or corrective measures if any club action, non-participant interference, or calamity occurs in an NFL game which the Commissioner deems so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.”
In other words, Thomas was suggesting that Commissioner Roger Goodell either overturn the call, and presumably replay the game from that point, or perhaps even overturn the result and give New Orleans the win. There is almost no chance Goodell will take any such action, but Saints Coach Sean Payton pointed out Sunday that he is a member of the league committee that could be charged with changing rules regarding official reviews of pass interference.
“There’s just too much at stake,” Payton said after his team’s 26-23 home loss. “And, listen, it’s a hard job for [the officials]. It’s happening fast. But I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference.
“We all want to get it right, right? We’ve got plenty of technology to speed things up,” he added. “Look, I’m on the competition committee. So hopefully that provides a voice. I hope no other team has to lose a game the way we lost that one today, though."
An online petition demanding a rematch was started shortly after the game’s end, and according to change.org, it is “one of our fastest growing sports petitions in history!” The petition had more than 470,000 signatures as of Monday evening.
“I bounced up looking for a flag and didn’t see one, so I was kind of shocked about that,” Lewis said Sunday. “I saw what everybody else saw. You all feel like it was obvious? There it is. Everybody knows it was obvious.”
Even Robey-Coleman acknowledged that he probably should have drawn a penalty, telling reporters: “Came to the sideline, looked at the football gods and was like, ‘Thank you.' I got away with one tonight.”
“Plenty of times throughout the season, there’s calls that go against you, go for you,” Brees said. “But obviously in a situation like that, where it seemed like everybody in the world saw it, it’s tough.”
For their part, Rams fans and some team officials pointed to a missed call on quarterback Jared Goff, who appeared to have been grabbed by the face mask as he ran toward the end zone on a second-down play in the fourth quarter. He was tackled at the 2-yard line, and after C.J. Anderson was stopped at the 1 on the next play, followed by a delay-of-game penalty, Los Angeles settled for a short field goal that tied the score at 20. If Goff had gotten that call, the Rams would have had a first down at the 1, greatly increasing their chances of scoring a go-ahead touchdown that could have dramatically altered the course of the game.
Benson, who became the Saints' principal owner after her husband, longtime team owner Tom Benson, died in March, referred to him in her statement. “This past season has been especially meaningful to me as we honored my husband,” she said, thanking New Orleans fans for their support.
“While the way this season ended has left us all frustrated and disappointed,” she said, “I am comforted knowing we will respond the way our community always responds — with resilience, fierce determination and love for each other and the Saints.”
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