Monday night’s Texans-Saints game ended with two incredible late drives and a dramatic walk-off 58-yard field goal to put the home team over the top, 30–28. However you feel about the Saints and their fans, one positive takeaway from their victory is it managed to wipe out a pretty significant refereeing error in the first half that almost certainly cost the Saints a good chance at points. The world is waiting for Saints fans to shut up about refereeing—a narrow loss Monday night would’ve restored their anger for another century.
The call came just before halftime, after Michael Thomas hauled in a 17-yard pass near midfield on a Saints third-and-17, inside the final minute of the second quarter. This was an important drive, as drives in the first half of the first game of the season go—the Texans had stoned the Saints on two promising first-half drives, and were up 14–3 on the scoreboard. A successful drive here could’ve made it a one-score game headed into halftime.
The play gave the Saints a fourth-and-one, but referees stopped the action to review the spot of the ball, which brought the game clock to a halt at 26 seconds. Following the review, which granted the Saints a first down, referee John Hussey first announced that the game clock, showing 26 seconds, was correct. Moments later, after conferencing with the other officials, Hussey announced that, by rule, because the previous play ended with the clock still running, there would be a mandatory 10-second runoff to account for the review. The Saints and their fans were not happy.
The runoff is fine—the Saints had the opportunity to negate the runoff by using their final timeout, and declined—but Hussey appeared to get the call wrong anyway. The issue is that the play under review did not end at the 26-second mark. Michael Thomas was ruled down with 41 seconds on the clock, and the Saints actually snapped the ball for their next play at the 26-second mark, before the replay official stopped the game to review the spot on Thomas’s catch. FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira, NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay, and ESPN’s rules analyst John Parry were ultimately in agreement, that the runoff should’ve come from the end of the play being reviewed, and not from the start of the subsequent play.
The Saints failed to make much of the 16 seconds left to them after the sequence, and settled for a 56-yard field goal try, which was missed. This very nearly mattered. The Saints came back to take a second-half lead, but Deshaun Watson brought the Texans down the field for a lightning-strike go-ahead touchdown to Kenny Stills, to give Houston a one-point lead. Electrifying as that sequence was, decent people hoping for an end to all this referee-shirt madness in New Orleans were tugging their collars at that moment, knowing that Saints fans would have another extremely legitimate gripe with officiating.
The Saints ultimately prevailed, when Drew Brees led an efficient 35-yard drive in the final 37 seconds of the game, setting kicker Wil Lutz up for a 58-yarder, which he crushed. I want to believe that the euphoria of a thrilling win will wash the bitterness out of Saints fans once and for all, but realistically Monday night’s officiating boner will only encourage them onward. Alas.