The NFL encountered another officiating flub in the Superdome. At least this time the New Orleans Saints won the game.
NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron admitted after Monday night's 30-28 win over the Houston Texans that a time accounting error cost the Saints 15 seconds at the end of the first half.
With the Saints trailing 14-3, Drew Brees drove New Orleans near midfield with a third-down pass to Michael Thomas that originally was ruled a half-yard shy of a first down with 41 seconds remaining in the second quarter. With Thomas ruled in bounds, the Saints rushed to the line to get a fourth-down play off quickly. Refs stopped the game, however, and decided to review the play.
Replay correctly determined that Thomas gained the necessary yardage for the first down. However, because the clock was running, by rule the review required a 10-second runoff -- Sean Payton declined to use his final timeout to save the 10 seconds. That's where the mistake was made.
When restarting the play, officials deducted the time from 26 seconds (what the clock read when the review was initiated) instead of 41 seconds, stripping the Saints of 15 seconds.
"The play ended at 41 seconds when we ruled him down," Riveron told pool reporter Larry Holder after the game. "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. At that time, we should have gone to coach Payton and asked him if he wanted to take a timeout in lieu of a 10-second runoff. Instead of setting the clock to 41, we inadvertently set it to 26 and then had a 10-second runoff because he did not want to take the timeout."
After two more plays, kicker Wil Lutz missed a 56-yard attempt that would have cut the lead to eight before halftime.
Following last year's disastrous ending for the Saints with the refs missing a blatant pass interference call, which led to a rule change, it was déjà vu for a fan base whose wounds were still open.
"I still don't know what the deal was," quarterback Drew Brees said after the game, via Katherine Terrell of The Athletic. "Someone came up to me in the locker room and acknowledged that a mistake was made, that 10 seconds should not have run off but they should've had 31 seconds left. Instead, we only had 16. So, listen, that can't happen. I mean, that's a game-changer, right? We had to kick a 58-yard field goal or whatever it was. ... If we had 15 more seconds, are you kidding me? We're going to get closer. That's a game-changer. That can't happen."
With Brees leading a ferocious comeback win in the final minute of the fourth quarter to set-up a Lutz 58-yarder for the walk-off victory, the league avoided another massive controversy in the Bayou.
This time getting the win, the Saints were able to process the admitted officiating error with more ease than one that cost them a potential Super Bowl trip eight months ago.
"It wouldn't be the first time they messed up a call," linebacker Demario Davis said. "It's Week 1 for everybody."
Thankfully, Lutz saved the country from another officiating mishap that could have overshadowed the best game of Week 1.