The last time the Saints were in the Superdome playing a very important prime time NFL game, they were robbed by the referees on a disastrous pass interference call that dramatically shifted the way replay and challenges are handled. It was an unmitigated disaster. There's still litigation going over the matter! Don't expect any Saints fans to drop their lawsuits after Monday night either, as a referee gaffe cost the Saints roughly 16 seconds of game clock at the end of the first half and probably somewhere between three and seven points.
Essentially what happened was a booth-initiated replay created a bunch of confusion on the Saints attempt to march down the field and get within range for a Wil Lutz field goal.
With 48 seconds left on the clock, the Saints snapped the ball and Brees, on a 3rd-and-17, winged the ball down the left sideline to Michael Thomas, who made an incredible leaping grab and quickly turned around and appeared to pick up a first down. But the refs ruled that it was a 4th-and-1 (inches, whatever, etc.).
Fun fact: Michael Thomas has never dropped anything in his life, not even a call @Cantguardmike pic.twitter.com/KioluBkJZa— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 10, 2019
So the Saints sprinted up to the line of scrimmage and ran a quick play to pick up the first down with a quarterback sneak. The Saints snapped the ball with 28 seconds on the clock and picked up the first down. However, with 26 seconds left on the clock, the referees blew the whistle and said they would initiate a replay of the catch since the game was under the two-minute warning.
The refs went and looked at the play and decided that Thomas picked up a first down. However, because the clock was running, the refs gave the Saints the option of either a 10-second runoff (studies have determined that's how long it takes to get to the line in these cases, so that's the runoff in this situation) or to use their final timeout to stop the clock.
Sean Payton chose to take the runoff and the Saints got the ball with 16 seconds remaining. Two plays later, Brees completed a pass to Thomas, they called timeout and trotted out Lutz for a 56-yard field goal. Unfortunately he missed.
More unfortunate? How badly this was botched by the refs on the field. As noted by multiple former referees on Twitter, the officials should have wound the clock back to 42 seconds (or roughly therein) and THEN given the Saints the choice of the runoff versus the timeout.
Unless I am crazy, they really mishandled the replay. They should have reset the clock to 41 seconds and then run 10 seconds down to 31. That took 15 seconds away from the Saints.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) September 10, 2019
Since the play was reveresed to a first down, the game clock should have been reset to the time on the clock at the end of the play and 10 seconds run off from there. It appears the runoff occurred from the time the game was stopped for review. #HOUvsNO— Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) September 10, 2019
This makes obvious sense: the Saints shouldn't be penalized for the actual time running off that they needed to get up to the line of scrimmage. They lost about 14 seconds going up to run a play they couldn't run. Then they were penalized -- unnecessarily -- another 10 seconds of time because the referees didn't realize the issue.
What should have happened is the clock should have been wound back to 42 seconds and Payton should have been given the option of calling his timeout or taking a 10-second runoff. He would have taken the runoff and then had Brees either spike the ball or run a play downfield, probably the same throw he attempted to Thomas before. If they complete the pass, the Saints are probably sprinting up to spike the ball with about 22 seconds left on the clock.
That is a VASTLY different situation than they ended up being in, settling for a very long field goal with four seconds left on the clock after using their timeout. In other words, the refs dogged them again. Just another day at the Superdome for the Saints.