DETROIT — My newspaper story on Saints coach Sean Payton’s objections to the officiating in New Orleans’ 24-23 defeat to the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday didn’t permit me enough time or space to highlight all of the calls with which he likely took issue.
So I wanted to follow up with a post that touched on a couple more of the plays that probably prompted him to criticize the performance of referee Terry McAulay’s crew in his news conference with the media afterwards.
The most obvious one I missed live from the press box was on a third-and-10 for the Saints at Detroit’s 18 with 5:35 left in the game and New Orleans leading 20-10. As quarterback Drew Brees dropped back to pass, Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley charged into the Saints’ backfield, grabbed Travaris Cadet by the helmet and yanked the Saints’ running back to the turf.
With no one open further up the field, Brees checked down to Cadet and looked to dump it off to him. But Cadet was on the ground, and Brees threw the ball away to avoid being sacked by Fairley. Readers viewing the game on television pointed out that both Payton and Brees were irate when Fairley wasn’t penalized, which would’ve given the Saints a new set of downs closer to the goal-line the Lions (5-2) were defending.
Instead, Brees’ incompletion stopped the clock with 5:29 to go, and the Saints settled for a 36-yard field goal by kicker Shayne Graham that gave New Orleans a 23-10 lead.
Of course, after surrendering a 73-yard touchdown reception, throwing an interception that set up Detroit at the Saints’ 14, giving up another TD catch (this one from five yards out), and then ceding the ball to the Lions on downs with 21 seconds left, New Orleans lost by a point and dropped to 2-4.
Another moment where the officials upset those in New Orleans’ corner was on a punt from the Lions’ Sam Martin with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter. The ball hit the pylon after the punt, and many thought it’d be a touchback that would give the Saints the ball at their 20. But, as Lions players pleaded with them, officials ruled the ball went out of bounds at the Saints’ 1, leaving New Orleans to face a 99-yard field.
The Saints still drove to Detroit’s 30 to set up a 48-yard field goal by Graham that armed New Orleans with a 20-10 lead with 13:38 left in the game.
Payton remarked that the officiating wasn’t the only reason his team lost in Detroit, but he did make it a point to criticize the refs post-game.
“I wasn’t happy with the way that game was officiated,” Payton said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”
The trip to Detroit marked the end of what many considered to be the easy part of the Saints’ schedule. Their first six opponents had a winning percentage of .475, and none made the playoffs in 2013.
The Saints lost to four of those teams, all of whom they visited: aside from Detroit, New Orleans suffered setbacks in Atlanta (2-5), Cleveland (3-3) and Dallas (6-1).
They beat Tampa Bay (1-5) and Minnesota (2-5) at home.
The Saints’ next four opponents have a winning percentage of .593, and all made the playoffs in 2013. Of those, the Saints will host three — Green Bay (5-2), San Francisco (4-3) and Cincinnati (3-2-1) — and travel to one, Carolina (3-3-1).
(H/T @steven3210 on Twitter)