Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints beat the Houston Texans on Monday night. (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

New Orleans Saints fans showed up Monday night at the Superdome to work out their lingering angst and outrage about the missed pass interference call in last season’s NFC championship game that cost their team a trip to the Super Bowl. Many in the crowd wore black-and-white-striped referee jerseys or carried oversized yellow penalty flags. Much to their dismay, their frustrations only mounted as the night progressed.

There was another officiating blunder as the Saints opened their 2019 season by hosting the Houston Texans — more subtle this time and certainly not as costly, but enough for the fans to unleash boos when their team missed a long field goal attempt at the end of a frustrating first half after the officials mishandled a 10-second clock runoff. The NFL later acknowledged the mistake.

There was a roughing-the-kicker penalty against the Saints that gave the Texans a second chance at an extra point in the game’s final minute. That enabled Houston to take a 28-27 lead with 37 seconds remaining, and it appeared the latest bid by quarterback Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton to get the Saints back to a Super Bowl was about to have a very bad and very exasperating start.

But then Brees and kicker Wil Lutz intervened. Brees maneuvered the Saints rapidly into position and Lutz drilled a 58-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Texans, 30-28, via a thrilling, improbable finish. The Saints scored 27 second-half points and overcame deficits of 14-3 and 21-10.

“The minute you heard that ball go off his foot, it was a thundering, thundering kick,” Brees said afterward. “I think we all knew it was going through the uprights.”

Lutz said he was eager to redeem himself after his missed kick at the end of the first half and knew that, with Brees in charge, 37 seconds would be enough for the Saints, at the very least, to get close.

“That’s got to be a top-one moment for me,” Lutz said at his postgame news conference.

The NFL just can’t seem to get away from Superdome officiating gaffes. The fiasco during the NFC championship game was an all-timer. It sent the Los Angeles Rams, not the Saints, to the Super Bowl and it led to owners taking the offseason step of making pass interference reviewable by instant replay.

This wasn’t on that level. Not even close. But it wasn’t nothing, either. It was a mistake on the sort of elementary game-administration procedure that shouldn’t be botched.

“I still don’t know what the deal was. … Listen, that can’t happen,” Brees said after the game. “That’s a game-changer, right?... If we had 15 more seconds — are you kidding? We’re going to get closer.”

A replay ruling on a catch by the Saints’ Michael Thomas for a first down necessitated a 10-second runoff, under NFL rules. The Saints could have nullified the runoff by taking a timeout but declined to do so. Their next snap came with 14 seconds remaining in the half.

Experts like Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating czar who is now a rules analyst for Fox, and Terry McAulay, a former NFL referee and now a rules analyst for NBC, wrote on Twitter that the officials had erred. They should have put time back on the clock before the runoff, the experts said.

The league later acknowledged that through comments by Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, to a pool reporter.

“The play ended at 41 seconds when we ruled [Thomas] down,” Riveron said. “Then we stopped the game for a replay review. After we did our administrative duties, we should have reset the clock to 41 seconds because that’s when we blew the play dead. … Instead of setting the clock to 41, we inadvertently set it to 26 and then had a 10-second runoff because [Payton] did not want to take the timeout. Again, we should have reset it to 41, not 26, and then ultimately to 31 after the 10-second runoff.”

Payton took the mistake relatively in stride.

“It is what it is. … It shouldn’t have been a booth review,” Payton said after the game. “To me, it was pretty obvious he made the yards to gain. We’ve always moved the chains in the past. But, look, that’s the rule, though. And so you’ve got to choose whether you want to take 10 seconds or whether you want to use your timeout.”

This time, the officiating mistake wasn’t blatant or memorably significant. The football that was played the rest of the night was crisp and dramatic enough to overshadow it. And the Saints won. Brees threw an interception but had two touchdown passes in a 32-for-43, 370-yard night.

“They fought,” Payton said of his players. “They hung in there and we ended up, obviously, with a huge kick at the end by Wil and a good win.”


Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson twice visited the medical tent Monday. (Bill Feig/AP Photo)

For the Texans, Watson threw three touchdown passes, two of them to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But Watson also threw an interception and was sacked six times. He finished the game despite making two trips to the medical tent on the Texans’ sideline after landing on his back in the end zone on a fourth-down, 21-yard touchdown run in the first half.

And what a finish it was. Watson threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kenny Stills with 37 seconds to play. Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point wide right. But the roughing-the-kicker penalty on the Saints gave him another chance and he converted. The Houston defense simply could not hold on from there.

“Give credit to the Saints,” Texans Coach Bill O’Brien said. “They’ve got a great team. But we’ve got a good football team. And I think you can see that. We just need to clean some things up. One game’s not gonna define a 16-game season. We just need to get back to work.”


Saints kicker Wil Lutz celebrates Monday night. (Butch Dill/AP Photo)

In-game updates

FINAL: Saints 30, Texans 28

The 2019 season began just as the 2018 season ended for the New Orleans Saints, with their fans at the Superdome outraged about officiating. But this time, there was no Super Bowl berth at stake. The officials may have erred, according to experts, but it wasn’t a blatant officiating blunder for the ages. And, most significantly, the Saints overcame the controversy and won this time via a thrilling, improbable finish.

They came from behind to beat the Houston Texans, 30-28, to get the latest bid by quarterback Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton to get back to a Super Bowl off to a successful start.

Kicker Wil Lutz won it for the Saints with a 58-yard field goal as time expired. Brees hurried the Saints into position for Lutz’s winning kick after Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kenny Stills with 37 seconds to play. The Texans took a 28-27 lead on a second-chance extra point after the Saints committed a roughing-the-kicker penalty on the first-attempt miss.

The Saints scored 27 second-half points and overcame deficits of 14-3 and 21-10. Brees threw an interception but had two touchdown passes in a 32-for-43, 370-yard night. For the Texans, Watson threw three touchdown passes, two of them to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But he also threw an interception and was sacked six times. Watson finished the game despite making two trips to the medical tent on the Texans’ sideline after landing on his back in the end zone on a fourth-down touchdown run in the first half.

The officiating controversy came when a 10-second clock runoff on the Saints’ final possession of the first half was mishandled, according to former NFL officiating czar Mike Pereira and former NFL referee Terry McAulay. The Saints ended up missing a long field goal attempt as time expired in the first half. But unlike with the officiating fiasco in last season’s NFC championship came, the Saints prevailed.

4th Quarter

Roughing the kicker gives Texans the lead: The Saints put the game into the hands of their defense after Wil Lutz’s 47-yard field goal upped their lead to 27-21 with 50 seconds left. But the defense didn’t deliver, as Deshaun Watson moved the Texans rapidly down the field and threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills with 37 seconds to play. Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point wide right. But a roughing-the-kicker penalty on the Saints gave him another chance and he converted. (Texans 28, Saints 27 with 37 seconds left in the 4th quarter)

Sixth sack for Saints: The Texans supposedly fixed their offensive line, in part with the trade for left tackle Laremy Tunsil, after Deshaun Watson was sacked 62 times last season. But if they did, it’s not evident in their opening game of this season. Watson has been sacked six times by the Saints, including twice on each of the last two Houston possessions. The Saints have the ball back and have the lead, with 3:30 to try to run off the clock. (Saints 24, Texans 21 with 3:29 left in the 4th quarter)

Saints take lead: For the first time all night, the Saints have the lead. They moved in front when Drew Brees threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith on the opening play of the fourth quarter. The Saints have 21 second-half points after managing only three in the first half. They’ve wiped out Texans’ leads of 14-3 and 21-10. (Saints 24, Texans 21 with 14:55 remaining in the 4th quarter)

3rd Quarter

Watson throws interception, Hopkins gets personal foul: The intensity in this game is increasing. Saints safety Marcus Williams intercepted a deep pass thrown into traffic by Deshaun Watson. Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was given a personal foul for lifting Williams off the ground and body-slamming him to the turf on his tackle of the safety after the interception. (Texans 21, Saints 17 with 1:48 left in the 3rd quarter)

Saints rolling now: The Saints have gotten their offense back into gear, with their second touchdown in their last two possessions. Drew Brees’s first touchdown pass of the season is a nine-yarder to jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill. (Texans 21, Saints 17 with 2:39 left in the 3rd quarter)

Corroboration that officials erred: Former NFL referee Terry McAulay, now a rules analyst for NBC, concurs that the officials erred with their application of the 10-second clock runoff on the final Saints’ possession of the first half. “Since the play was [reversed] to a first down, the game clock should have been reset to the time on the clock at the end of the play and 10 seconds run off from there,” McAulay wrote on Twitter. “It appears the runoff occurred from the time the game was stopped for review.”

Texans have immediate reply: The second Watson-to-Hopkins touchdown of the night has restored the Texans’ lead to 11 points, this time at 21-10. DeAndre Hopkins’s 16-yard touchdown catch came against safety Marcus Williams this time. The Texans’ drive was extended when an offside penalty against the Saints negated an interception by cornerback Marshon Lattimore. (Texans 21, Saints 10 with 8:20 left in the 3rd quarter)

Saints strike back: The Saints didn’t manage a first-half touchdown. But they struck quickly in the third quarter, drawing to within 14-10 on a 30-yard touchdown run by tailback Latavius Murray. (Texans 14, Saints 10 with 12:51 left in the 3rd quarter)

HALFTIME

Texans in command but injury concerns about Watson: Saints fans showed up Monday night at the Superdome to work out their lingering anger about the missed pass interference call in last season’s NFC title game that cost their team a trip to the Super Bowl. Many in the crowd wore black-and-white-striped referee jerseys or carried oversized yellow penalty flags. But, much to their dismay, their frustrations are only mounting. The Texans lead, 14-3, at halftime behind a touchdown run and a touchdown pass by quarterback Deshaun Watson. However, there are injury concerns with Watson, who made two trips to the medical tent on the Texans’ sideline after suffering a hard fall on his back on a leap into the end zone on his 21-yard, fourth-down touchdown scamper. Drew Brees threw a rare red-zone interception and the Saints did not manage a first-half touchdown. Kicker Wil Lutz missed wide left on a 56-yard field goal attempt as time expired in the half, with fans booing loudly about a 10-second runoff of time on the clock on the Saints’ final first-half drive. A replay ruling on a catch by the Saints’ Michael Thomas for a first down necessitated the runoff, under NFL rules. After the runoff, 16 seconds remained in the half. But Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating czar who is now a rules analyst for Fox, wrote on Twitter that the officials mishandled the replay and should have reset the game clock to 41 seconds before the 10-second runoff to 31 seconds. “Unless I am crazy, Pereira wrote, “they really mishandled the replay. … That took 15 seconds away from the Saints.” (Texans 14, Saints 3 at halftime)

2nd Quarter

Texans extend lead: The Texans have upped their lead to 14-3 with a 16-play touchdown drive that took 7:35 off the clock. Watson’s two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who beat Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore on a third-and-goal slant pattern, capped the long drive. Kenny Stills had his first catch as a member of the Texans on the drive, and a defensive holding penalty on the Saints following a third-down incompletion extended the possession. Watson returned to the medical tent on the Texans’ sideline after the touchdown. (Texans 14, Saints 3 with 1:47 left in the 2nd quarter)

Watson stays in game: Following a relatively lengthy stay in the medical tent on the sideline, Deshaun Watson returned to the field for the start of the Texans’ next offensive series. So he didn’t miss a play after his hard fall on his touchdown run. (Texans 7, Saints 3 with 9:22 left in the 2nd quarter)

Saints reply with field goal: Kicker Wil Lutz’s 32-yard field goal has gotten the Saints on the scoreboard. The Saints have been frustrated on offense so far. They reached the Houston 14-yard line on that drive but settled for the field goal. Brees has connected on 12 of 17 passes for 123 yards. But he threw a costly interception and the Saints are yet to manage a touchdown. (Texans 7, Saints 3 with 9:22 left in the 2nd quarter)


Drew Brees and the Saints faced the Houston Texans on Monday. (Bill Feig/AP Photo)

Watson gives Texans the lead: Houston took the lead in the opening minute of the second quarter on a 21-yard, fourth-and-inches run by quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson landed on his back after leaping into the end zone and headed to the medical tent on the Texans’ sideline after the play. Watson’s touchdown capped a 94-yard drive following linebacker Whitney Mercilus’s interception of a Drew Brees pass. Wide receiver Will Fuller’s 54-yard catch got the Texans moving. Coach Bill O’Brien made a failed instant replay challenge of the spot of the football, looking for a first down, before the fourth down. O’Brien called a timeout right before his challenge, then lost another timeout when it failed. No matter. Watson kept the ball and ran around the left side of the Texans’ formation on the fourth-down play, finishing with his leap across the goal line. (Texans 7, Saints 0 with 14:13 left in the 2nd quarter)

1st Quarter

Brees throws pick: A rare mistake by Drew Brees has kept the Saints from taking the lead. They were driving toward a potential go-ahead touchdown when Brees threw an interception to Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Brees was pressured on a second-and-five play from the Houston 11-yard line. He moved to his right and tried to slip a pass to running back Latavius Murray. Instead, the pass went directly to Mercilus for only Brees’s second red-zone interception since the start of the 2017 season. (Saints 0, Texans 0 with 2:55 left in the 1st quarter)

Watson under pressure: The Texans allowed Deshaun Watson to be sacked 62 times last season. That’s one of the big reasons they were willing to surrender such a king’s ransom of draft choices to the Miami Dolphins in the trade for left tackle Laremy Tunsil. But two offensive possessions into the new season, Watson remains under siege. He has been sacked twice by the Saints, and the Texans have punted twice. The Saints have the ball for the second time after punting to end their opening drive when Coach Sean Payton opted against a fourth-and-two gamble from the Houston 45-yard line. (Saints 0, Texans 0 with 7:15 left in 1st quarter)

Saints win replay challenge: It wasn’t instant replay for a pass interference non-call, but Coach Sean Payton and the Saints did win a replay challenge on the Texans’ opening possession. The Saints challenged the on-field call of a legal catch for the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins, and the call was overturned on review and called an incompletion. The Saints went on to get a third-down sack of Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson and force a punt. (Saints 0, Texans 0 with 13:31 left in 1st quarter)

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