Officiating during NFL games in New Orleans continues to be a storyline.
Despite the debacle that marred the Rams-Saints NFC Championship game in January, resulting in not only an apology from the league but also new rules for 2019 that allow pass interference to be retroactively called after a replay review, the refs seem to be a semi-permanent fixture in games at the Superdome.
While the Cowboys couldn’t get their offense on track to muster more than 10 points, Carl Cheffers’ officiating crew made their presence felt several times, hindering a few key moments that might have otherwise helped the Cowboys’ cause.
As the first half came to a close, the Saints had penetrated deep into Dallas territory. With just four seconds on the clock, it appeared that New Orleans would have time to either run a play in hopes of scoring a touchdown or to try a field goal attempt. But after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took the snap and missed tight end Jared Cook, there were- inexplicably, some would say- still two seconds left in the quarter. The Saints used what felt like a free play to kick their third field goal of the quarter and go into the break with a 9-3 lead.
When asked about the clock operation in his postgame press conference, coach Jason Garrett was measured in his response.
“There were four seconds before the play,” Garrett said, stopping himself with an obvious grimace. “It was one of the fastest plays in NFL history.”
In speaking with 105.3 The Fan on Monday morning, Garrett didn’t exactly elaborate. “I thought that was interesting, that timing,” he said on the air. “I just thought it was interesting.”
Garrett was asked by hosts Shan and RJ if he thought the NFL should institute a more exact game clock that ticks off fractions of seconds, like the NBA uses.
“It’s interesting you say that,” Garrett offered, “because that’s the first thing that kind of came into my mind is, ‘Maybe we need something like that,’ because it just seemed like two seconds… there was a lot of things that happened in that two seconds.”
Also up for debate was a fumble by running back Ezekiel Elliott. On a fourth-down rush, Elliott reached the line to gain before being tackled. The ball was knocked loose, but replays seemed to clearly show that Elliott’s elbow had hit the turf first. Officials nevertheless gave the ball to New Orleans, and the Saints drove for the aforementioned field goal before intermission.
At the podium Sunday night, Garrett seemed to think Elliott was down before fumbling. “Obviously, felt good about being able to convert it, which we did,” he stated for reporters. “Unfortunately, they ruled that play the way they ruled it.”
And finally, the curse of pass interference loomed again over a game in New Orleans. Cowboys wideout Amari Cooper was flagged twice for offensive pass interference. Both came against Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore: the first in the second quarter and the other on a deep ball on the Cowboys’ final possession, as they were trying to drive toward a game-winning score.
“I guess the first one, I thought it was a decent call, I guess,” Cooper told the media at his locker. “I could see a referee calling me for OPI, but the second one, I don’t think so.”
Cooper said it was the first time he can recall being penalized twice in a game for offensive pass interference. But Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie suggested that seeing more flags on pass plays doesn’t surprise him in the least.
“It doesn’t really matter, because at the end of the day, that’s just the way the league’s run,” he said after the game. “That’s just what it is. We’ve just got to deal with it.”
And ‘dealing with it’ often means checking with the league each week to see how calls are trending.
“It’s ticky-tack. After every game, we send things in to the league, just to ask them, ‘Is this legal or is this illegal?’ It doesn’t really matter; we’ve got to remove emotions out of it, just line up, and play.”
If anything is a surprise, it might be that Cooper got called out twice as a wide receiver.
“I pretty much know I’m on the defensive side of the ball,” Awuzie added. “And the fans pay to see the offense. So that’s as much as I know.”
The irony, of course, is that there wasn’t much offense to be seen from either side in Sunday’s 12-10 contest. But there were plenty of penalty flags. As always, it seems, in The Big Easy.