On Sunday, the entire NFL universe witnessed one of the worst referee mistakes of all-time during the NFC Championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints. With 1:45 left in the game, the referees missed a blatant pass interference penalty perpetrated by Rams nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman on Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis. This missed-call essentially changed the entire finish of the conference title game and forced the Saints to kick a FG instead of having the ball 1st and goal.
The missed penalty call was so egregious that the broadcasters, Saints sideline, Saints fans, and social media blew up over it. But, the biggest response to this blown call comes from an online betting site that made a radical decision to return bets placed on this game due to the terrible officiating.
On Monday, PointsBet.com rewarded their NFL bettors by returning wagers on spreads and moneylines for this game. The internet sportsbook made the following comments via Twitter:
“One blown call may change a game’s outcome. That doesn’t mean it should change YOUR outcome. We’re paying back ALL SpreadLine and MoneyLine bets on the @Saints. Everyone will have their bets refunded as Bonus Bets. Just think of it as Good Karma.”
This decision to return all of the spread and moneyline wagers for the NFC title game is definitely uncommon within the industry. Hopefully, for us avid sports bettors, this could become a more common practice with betting sites when there’s an obvious miscall that costs people money.
With less than two minutes left in the game, and the score tied at 20 to 20, the Saints were in the driver’s seat to win the NFC championship. All they had to do was get one first down and run the clock all the way down to a few seconds left before kicking a field goal and winning the NFC Championship. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as the team and fans had hoped.
On third-and-10 from LA’s 13-yard line, Drew Brees attempted a pass along the sidelines to receiver Lewis that would have netted a first down if the receiver caught it. Instead, Lewis got blasted by Robey-Coleman before the ball even got there. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Robey-Coleman also had helmet-to-helmet contact on a defenseless receiver. Both penalties would’ve resulted in a 1st down, which would’ve allowed the Saints to run the clock down below 20 seconds before kicking the game winning field goal.
The miss call resulted in the Rams getting the ball back with more than 90 seconds left and plenty of time to go down the field and kick the game tying field goal.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton described the conversation he had with the league office after the game:
“For a call like that not to be made, man, it’s just hard to swallow. And then to get a phone call …” Payton said, trailing off. We spoke initially, then I called to follow up. And the first thing [head of officials Alberto Riveron] said when I got on the phone — ‘We messed it up.’”
Payton continued detailing the conversation:
“It was simple. They blew the call. They said it should never have not been a call. They said not only was it interference, it was helmet-to-helmet. They just — they couldn’t believe it.”
Rams defensive back Robey-Coleman even thought that a flag was going to come out on the play:
“I thought it was for a split-second; but the ref got up — when I got up, he said, ‘Incomplete,’ so I just was like, ‘Thank you,’. I didn’t look back at the ball. I didn’t play the ball. If I had played the ball, then it would’ve been a different story.”
Robey-Coleman went on to say that the official told him the ball was tipped, which is why there was no flag. Wide Receiver Lewis believed that the play was such an obvious call that he was still in shock after the game over the refs not throwing a flag.
On a side note, due to the uproar over the missed call, the NFL had to move the referee crew after the game to a new, undisclosed hotel for their safety.
Not only did this missed call cost the Saints an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl, but it also hit a nerve within the league where NFL players are getting sick and tired of poor officiating having an outcome on games. Here’s a sample of just how upset current and former NFL players are over the missed call and poor officiating as a whole. The following comments are compiled from each player’s Twitter handle:
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen took a big shot at the referee crew and wants them out of the league:
“Congrats to the Rams and everything. But there’s no way these refs can be in the league next season. I can count multiple games where they have dictated the end of the game and it ain’t fair. It’s out of control and the consequences are…well there is no consequence.”
Star defensive end JJ Watt took a more diplomatic approach and urged for accountability with referees: “There needs to be some form of accountability. NEEDS to be.”
This missed call also prompted other athletes and celebrities to belabor their disbelief. Hulk Hogan, LeBron James and other celebrities expressed their shock over the refs not throwing a flag.
For the Saints, they will have to pick up the pieces of a terrible end to their season and focus on how to get back to the NFL Conference title game next year. For the NFL, they desperately need to figure out how to avoid something like this from happening again in the future. In order to accomplish this, there needs to be a rule change. One change that could be made this offseason is to allow coaches to challenge judgement call plays like pass interference.
Saints owner Gayle Benson commented on her discussions with the NFL and her intentions moving forward:
“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,” she continued. “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.”
Saints coach Sean Payton is on the NFL’s competition committee and he plans on urging the league’s owners, coaches, and commissioner to address issues like this by working towards changes that will prevent missed calls like this from ruining future games.
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