Ball Does Lie: The Saints Just Lost on the Worst Missed Call in NFL Playoff History

Ball Does Lie: The Saints Just Lost on the Worst Missed Call in NFL Playoff History

Missed pass-interference penalties can be challenged in the Canadian Football League. Those plays might be reviewable in the NFL next season, too, after the worst missed call in recent memory likely cost the Saints a Super Bowl berth.

With just under two minutes remaining in Sunday’s NFC championship game and the score tied at 20, the Saints were well within field goal range after Ted Ginn Jr. caught a ball over safety Lamarcus Joyner at the Rams’ 13-yard line. Three plays later the Saints faced a third-and-10, and a conversion would’ve meant that they’d be able to bleed the clock to near double zeros and attempt a chip-shot field goal that would’ve likely sent them to the Super Bowl. Brees looked for receiver Tommylee Lewis, but Lewis got creamed by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman NFL Street-style before the ball came in.

It’s as obvious a pass-interference penalty as you’ll see. There was only one problem: A flag never came.

The refs had been reluctant to call pass interference earlier in the game, including this noncall on Robey-Coleman on the first play of the fourth quarter.

But the hit on Lewis took it to another level. It was a mauling, and it looked like the rule-book definition of pass interference: He hit the receiver before the pass got there and didn’t play the ball. But it went uncalled in the biggest moment of the NFC championship game.

After the game Robey-Coleman told ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry that a referee said that the play was not called a penalty because the ball was tipped, making contact between him and Lewis legal. Looking at the video, it doesn’t seem like the ball was tipped by anyone.

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When showed the replay by The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, the cornerback agreed it looked like pass interference.

Saints coach Sean Payton said at his postgame press conference that the refs blew the call, and he had already contacted the league office.

New Orleans was forced to kick the field goal, leaving the Rams 1:41 to come back down the field.

And come back they did. The Rams set up kicker Greg Zuerlein in field goal range in nine plays in under 90 seconds. Zuerlein’s 48-yard kick faded in line for a make and then back out for the miss, seemingly confirming the edict “ball don’t lie.” But the ball swerved back through the uprights at the last second.

The game went to overtime, and it didn’t take long for “ball don’t lie” to fail the Saints again. Three plays into the opening drive of OT, Brees was hit while throwing by Dante Fowler Jr., and the wounded-duck pass ended up in the arms of Rams safety John Johnson III.

Five plays, two minutes, and nearly 75,000 broken hearts in the Superdome later, Zuerlein nailed the game-winning 57-yard field goal. From Payton to Mark Ingram to Cam Jordan, the Saints struggled to put the feeling into words in the locker room after the game. One year after the Minneapolis Miracle, the Saints were felled by perhaps the worst officiating mistake of the decade. Sometimes, the ball does lie. Perhaps we should consult the Canadians.