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At What Point Is A Game Decided?

By John Cleven

As every person who voluntarily navigated to this sports page clearly knows by now, the end of regulation for the NFC Championship this weekend was not without controversy. With 1:14 remaining in the 4th Quarter, tied at 20-20, Drew Brees targeted Tommy Lee Lewis on a pass which would have left the Saints with a 1st-and-goal from the 3. Tommy Lee Lewis did not, however, catch said pass as Nickell Robey-Coleman leveled the intended receiver a full 2 seconds before the ball was even near his hands. This Defensive Pass Interference was painfully obvious to every person viewing the game in any capacity, with the important exception of the 7 men whose opinions actually mattered – the Referees.

This non-call was egregious. It was obvious. It was painful to watch. This non-call did not, however, as the majority of football fans would have you believe, decide the game.

In the wake of this controversy there is heavy scrutiny of the NFL, the commissioner and the competition committee. Petitions have been signed, calls have been made and Rule 17, Section 2, Article 1, which would give Roger Goodell unilateral control to decide to replay the game or award the win to the Saints, has been cited.
The problem with these arguments and assertions is that the call did not, in any way, decide the game. The fact of the matter is that with 1:14 remaining in a tied game, a call cannot directly influence the outcome. Thusly, to replay the game or to award the Saints the victory would be as egregious as the non-call which is the catalyst for this controversy.
The main argument is that the Saints would have run up the middle or taken a knee 3 times and kicked a field goal leaving approximately 0:04 seconds on the clock at the time of the impending kick-off. The assumption, therefore, is that the Saints would have clearly won. Right?

Wrong.

The only fact that matters in any question of failed officiating is whether or not time remains on the game clock. If the answer is greater than 0:00, the refs did not decide the game.
The Saints very well could have kicked the game-winning field goal, pooched the kick-off and walked away with a win. The Saints could also have, in a less likely situation, missed the kick or had the kick blocked. In an even less likely situation, the Rams could have forced a turnover on a terrible play call in true “Seahawks threw the ball on the 1 yard line” fashion.
The key here, though, is that these were all possible outcomes. When there is a possibility, however improbable it may be, there is still empirically a chance for multiple outcomes. So to say that the Saints would have certainly won is absolutely false and impossible to know.
If we want to dive further into hypotheticals, if the refs call a face-mask on the Saints Defense during the game-tying drive from the Rams, there’s a chance they score a touchdown instead, go up 4, take more time off the clock and force the Saints to chase a touchdown for the win rather than a walk-off field goal.
We cannot know what would happen in a situation that did not transpire. Whether its a no-call with 4:15 or a no-call with 1:14 left on the clock.
This is not to say the call-that-never-was will not put an asterisk next to the upcoming Super Bowl, it certainly does. This non-call was terrible, but the solution is not to award the victory to the Saints or to replay the game. The closest thing to fairness would be to make the call, and start the game from that moment, but even this approach is flawed as then every call prior to said call comes into question.
We may not have a true resolution to the worst call since the truly game-changing and replacement referee firing Packers-Seahawks “Fail Mary” in 2012, but we can rest assured that by definition, this call did not decide the game.

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