The evolution of a problem

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.

New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson, January 21, 2019


With less than two minutes left to play in the NFC Championship Game, Drew Brees threw a pass to the right side of the field to an open wide receiver, Tommylee Lewis.  Depending on whether you’re a Rams fan or a Saints fan, Lewis was leveled either a split second before or well before the ball was to hit him the hands.

No penalty was called.

We all know how things proceeded from there.  Had a whistle been blown, the Saints could have taken a knee, run out the clock and advanced to the Super Bowl.  Instead, the Rams took control of the ball again and ended up winning the game in overtime.  Los Angeles, instead of New Orleans, is Super Bowl bound.

Saints fans were (and most definitely still are) in an uproar, as were NFL fans nationwide, wondering how a call of that magnitude could have been missed.

Technically, two fouls were committed on the play, one for pass interference and the other for targeting, with the defensive back’s helmet crashing directly into the helmet of the defenseless wide receiver.  The NFL has done everything in its power to combat this sort of hit in the spirit of player safety yet again, no call was made.  Upon further review, you can even see Nickell Robey-Coleman look around for a flag after laying the lick, then celebrating subtly once no laundry was to be found.

By now you’ve already heard everything there is to hear about how the swallowed whistle ruined the Saints’ chances to compete for another Super Bowl.  But here’s one argument you haven’t heard.

Tommylee Lewis could have totally drawn that flag.

In the NBA, there is such a thing called flopping.  A flop is a way for a defensive player to draw a charge, or a foul, by tricking the referee into thinking there was contact when there wasn’t.  Flopping became so rampant in the NBA that a) many fans became turned off and b) the league had to institute a no-flopping rule where players were eventually fined and even suspended if they continued this sort of behavior.  Flopping still exists in the NBA but it’s nowhere near as bad as it once was.

Tommylee Lewis’ momentum and adrenaline brought him up immediately after he was sent flying to the turf after the Robey-Coleman hit.  Lewis wasn’t hurt… but had he stayed down just a little longer, feigning injury, he probably could have convinced the ref to throw that flag.  And that would have been all she wrote.  The difference between winning and losing is often razor thin.

In retrospect, a more experienced wide receiver might have stayed down long enough to draw that penalty.  And you know what?  He would have been right to do so.  Lewis is only in his third year.  Any one of Tom Brady’s receivers would have known better.

Clearly in this case, there was contact and a call should have been made but is that something that the game wants?  Do we want NFL players resorting to NBA or soccer-style tactics where they do their best flop impression to elicit a call?  They already do that enough.  Certainly, such behavior is not to be condoned but I’ll tell you one thing.  If I’m a coach and I know that one of my player’s working a referee might make the difference between a trip to the Super Bowl or an extended vacation, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to tell the kid to sell that call.

This is a problem the NFL needs to address.  The last thing the league wants is fans thinking their sport is fixed (which many fans already do).  The second to last thing they want is players (already perceived as ungrateful thanks to the anthem predicament) arguing every whistle or lack thereof.

One of the greatest (and most frustrating) things about sports is the human element; there is always a chance for error.  That’s what makes the games great.  That’s also what makes them frustratingly gut-wrenching, especially if you’re a Saints fan.

The Saints still had multiple opportunities to win that game.  They were up 13-0 and should have been able to hold off a young upstart Rams team.  They didn’t and it came down to a whistle, a whistle that was not blown.

After Sunday’s debacle, the NFL will undoubtedly look at how it officiates its product, as it does every off-season.  You can bet your ass that Mrs. Benson will be leading that charge.  Looking at ways to perfect the imperfect element of sport is no easy task.  The league does not want coaches telling players to lay down and elicit a call.   That will only exacerbate the problem instead of making it better.

The NFL has a chance to make things right this off-season.  Here’s hoping they do so because they most certainly didn’t on Sunday.

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12 Replies to “The evolution of a problem”

  1. Chris,
    You make some very valid points in your post, however, when you make mention of the human element that’s involved, what that means to me, is that there could be mistakes made! Now, having said that, I believe that it should be reviewed! If it’s the last two minutes or the last five minutes, that’s normally when the game is on the line.

    The NFL would be wise to make sure they give themselves cover, and not have people think the freakin game is rigged! By allowing these calls to be reviewed would do exactly that!

    Great post Chris, but I don’t think our friends in New Orleans care much about it after their team got totally screwed! Btw, I doubt I’ll be watching the Super Bowl! Thanks,

  2. Nice piece Chump. I actually expected a longer piece that also described the atrocity in Kansas City as the Chiefs, (as well as the Saints), were robbed by the never cease to surprise antics of the Patriots. A completely bogus ruffing the passer call was made giving the Pats 15 yards and a 1st down, in a play that was another pick fro Brady, and would have sealed the game as KC was up at the time.
    Even Phil Sims made comment that the officiating, (the Rams game), was less than what it should have been fro a championship. He was clearly upset…as are many of us. It makes me not really care to watch the Super Bowl…except for the party I’ll be enjoying 🙂

  3. Chris,
    With most sports now using replay review, controversy still exists. However, the most successful use of replay/challenge is in Tennis. Cut and Dry. Interesting that Gottlieb suggested on Twitter that replays should be reviewed only in real time. ?? Technology under the guise of “getting it right” has it’s setbacks.

  4. I have heard that the “blind” ref is a former Rams player. If so, why was he even on the officiating crew? That brings up all sorts of questions about fairness and impartiality.

    Back in the 1950s, television game shows seemed fair and impartial until a disgruntled contestant brought allegations that the outcomes we’re rigged. The subsequent Congressional investigation proved the allegations were true, and the game shows were forced to change the way they do business. If the NFL doesn’t make substantive rule changes that significantly reduce the possibility of another such occurrence, then they might we’ll find themselves under a Congressional microscope.

  5. Eric…

    The NBA allows for calls to be reviewed but they are more cut and dry calls. Whether a player stepped out of bounds, whether a shot was released in time. Foul calls are not reviewable.

    Similarly, Major League Baseball looks to review to find out whether a player is safe or out but coaches are not allowed to challenge ball and strike calls.

    These types of calls, like pass interference and the like, are judgment calls. In the past, professional sports leagues have not allowed coaches challenges because they didn’t want to admit their officials had made errors in judgment.

    By allowing coaches to challenge these sorts of calls, the NFL could essentially take the lead, which is not something that league is known for doing.

    I’m all for it if it means getting the calls right. I’m just not so sure that’s going to happen as willingly as we might think.

    We shall see, I guess.

  6. Mony…

    While marred with flags on almost every play late in the game, I’m not too sure the Pats game was as bad. It might have just seemed so in the wake of what we had just witnessed in the game earlier that afternoon.

    I can see why the roughing the passer call on Brady was made, at least from the viewpoint of the referee who made it.

    From the front, which is what we saw, the defender swiped at Brady but barely made contact with the helmet but from the back, where I believe the ref was standing, all he could see was the defender swipe his big arm down, as if to chop. That’s gonna get a whistle almost every time.

    If the ref sees this sort of move and then sees Brady’s helmet move as a result, he can only ‘assume’ illegal contact was made. Of course, that doesn’t make it right but in a league that bends over backwards to protect its quarterbacks, I wasn’t all that surprised by the calls.

    Stars are going to draw whistles. Jordan always did. Harden currently does. Again, I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s always been that way and in the NFL these days, it’s that way now more than ever.

  7. Bets…

    We are so jaded by bad calls that even when that whistle blows in tennis, and they go to the replay, I’m skeptical.

    Don’t you ever wonder when seeing the animated replay of a ball grazing the line whether that’s actually what happened?

    I know I do.

  8. Beagle…

    Take a straw poll among your average sports fan and ask them whether they think the NFL is rigged.

    You’ll be surprised at the result… of maybe you wont’ be, especially after a weekend like the one we just had.

  9. Moose…

    The only reason I’m not buying into conspiracies is that I think the NFL would have won regardless of who was in.

    With the Chiefs, you have up and coming young talent, just as you do in Los Angeles. With the Saints, you have one of America’s most beloved cities.

    Sure those markets are smaller but just because L.A. is the nation’s second largest market, that’s a town that generally does not support it’s pro football teams, of which is will soon have two.

    That being said, that town does have a new stadium to pay for, hehe.

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