The NFL got a pass interference review right, and the result felt like a cruel joke to Saints fans

Sean Payton

AP Photo/Butch Dill

Nearly a year removed from the no-call that begat the NFL's new pass interference rules, the Saints still can't catch a break.

  • Pass interference penalties have brought havoc to the NFL season, with reviews of controversial no-calls producing uneven results.
  • The NFL implemented the new rules in the wake of the NFC Championship, which saw a missed pass interference call cost the New Orleans Saints a shot at the Super Bowl.
  • This season, while coaches can challenge pass interference, referees have been hesitant to overrule their initial decision on the field.
  • That changed on Sunday, when the Saints, once the victim of the no-call, saw their hopes of a win nearly dashed when officials decided to call a pass interference penalty against them upon review.
  • On Twitter, many fans recognized the cruel joke of the moment, with the Saints seemingly unable to win their ongoing battle against pass interference.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

One of the biggest storylines of the NFL season thus far has been the faulty implementation of a new rule that made pass interference reviewable.

The change came after a missed pass interference penalty all but cost the New Orleans Saints a spot in the Super Bowl.Advertisement

So far, the new rules have caused more confusion.

While the ability to review pass interference penalties was supposed to ensure such egregious errors were fixed moving forward, through 11 weeks of the season, officials had been hesitant to overrule their initial judgment. Coaches challenging pass interference calls were losing reviews at an impressive rate - from Week 3 to mid-October, officials had overturned just one of 21 pass interference challenges.

The apparent futility of the new rule came into full display in Week 11 when Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins was wrapped up by Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the end zone well before it was possible to make a play on the ball. The Texans challenged but to no avail.

And then the Saints came marching in (again).

But just when it seemed like challenging no-calls on pass interference a surefire way to lose a timeout, the Panthers got a call to go their way, and it almost came back to haunt the Saints.
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With just two minutes left in their game against the Panthers, the Saints were trying to shut down the Carolina offense as they drove for what could be a game-winning score. Facing third-and-3 from the Saints' five-yard line, Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen threw to Jarius Wright, who was met by Saints safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson just shy of the end zone.

The ball bounced incomplete without a foul, but Panthers head coach Ron Rivera threw the challenge flag. After a review, a pass interference penalty was called, leaving the home crowd stunned.Going by the book, Gardner-Johnson probably did interfere. Still, based on how reviews have gone, the idea that this was the one instance where the flag came out was shocking to those who had come to expect such reviews to result in nothing.Advertisement

On Twitter, fans were struck by the cruel twist of fate that it was the Saints of all teams that got the short-end of the stick when a review finally overturned a no-call on the field.

While the penalty seemed like it might be the nail in the coffin for the Saints, New Orleans lucked out as Panthers kicker Joey Slye pushed wide a 28-yard field goal that would have given Carolina the lead with just two minutes remaining.

After taking back possession, Drew Brees did what he does best, leading the Saints on a 65-yard drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock.Advertisement

But despite the winning result, Saints head coach Sean Payton was still eager to express his frustrations with the officiating after the game.

"It wasn't our best game. It wasn't their best game, and, quite honestly, it wasn't New York's best game," Payton said, per The Athletic.

Just as it finally felt safe to assume missed pass interference calls would almost always stand under review, NFL officials overturned a call in at a crucial moment. It will give head coaches just enough reason to continue to throw out the challenge flag in late-game situations.Advertisement

What began as an effort to get calls right has instead only led to more confusion as to what pass interference is, and who determines when it gets overturned.

After Sunday, no matter which side a call comes down, it feels like it will be the Saints on the losing end.

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