(Nov. 26 — two days before Thanksgiving’s game between the Saints and Falcons) It takes no originality to say that the National Football League’s officiating mistakes continue to be a major embarrassment and that its inability to consistently enforce pass interference is bordering on scandalous.

In what is either more unlucky voodoo or an example of whiners being hoisted by their own petard (depending on your sympathies as a fan), the New Orleans Saints this year have been suffering from the very rule-change they instigated. After the fiasco in last year’s NFC championship game, where a missed interference call kept the Saints from the Super Bowl, it was the Saints’ persistent lobbying that led the NFL to make interference reviewable via instant replay.

The Saints, who play at Atlanta Thanksgiving night, have seen harm, but no benefit, from the replays. Last week, the bizarrely shifting standards for interference nearly cost the Saints the game against the Carolina Panthers. Four plays — count ’em, four — involved disputable interference calls. All four went against the Saints.

After the game, I reviewed all four, multiple times, in slow motion. Twice, the Saints were called for offensive pass interference, usually an infraction called less often than defensive interference. In both instances, the defender clearly initiated contact, both times using hands to the Saint’s body or shoulder to contain the receiver as he made a cut move in a pass route. Both times, the Saint receiver swiped away the defender’s hands, in reaction to the initial contact. Both times, the swipe resulted in a sort of status quo ante situation, with the receiver again having a slightly more advantageous path to the ball.

For nonmajor responses to nonmajor initial contact by the defender, the Saints twice were penalized, both on key plays. Both plays were reviewed by the replay booth. Neither call was overturned.

Another time, on a deep pass by Saints quarterback Drew Brees to receiver Ted Ginn, Ginn had a full step on the defender. Not once but twice, with the ball airborne, the defender grabbed Ginn’s shoulder pad, the second time just as the ball arrived. Neither grab was a full yank on the pad, but both slightly altered Ginn’s movement, and the second came just as Ginn was trying to make the catch. Ginn failed to hold on. No penalty was called….

[For the rest of this column, including an actual proposal to guide replay decisions on interference, please follow this link.]


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