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Crew that botched Steelers — Chargers worked NFC title game

The New Orleans Saints and their fan base were irate after NFL officials missed a clear pass interference call that would have all but sealed the Saints’ victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game. But instead of receiving a pass interference penalty, running down the clock and kicking the game-winning field goal, the Saints had to settle for a field goal, then watch the Rams force overtime before winning the game in the extra period. 

The officiating crew that worked Sunday’s NFC title game was the same crew that drew intense criticism for their missed calls during the Los Angeles Chargers’ come-from-behind victory against the Steelers in Week 13. One of the worst calls you’ll ever see took place near the end of the second quarter of Pittsburgh’s Week 13 matchup against the Chargers, as the officials missed a clear false start prior to Philip Rivers firing a touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin. The officials missed the call, and the Chargers cut the deficit to 13-7 as the first quarter came to a close. 

After missing a false start on Los Angeles’ first touchdown of the game, they missed a block in the back on the Chargers’ punt return for a score with just under 13 minutes in the game tied the game at 23-23.

“There was no explanation other than they missed it, which was unfortunate,” Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said when asked about the officials’ explanation of the miss false start on the Chargers’ first touchdown with the Steelers ahead 13-0.

“I’m not getting into the officiating elements of what transpired and how it was commented,” Tomlin responded when asked about a block in the back that was missed on Los Angeles’ 73-yard punt return for a score in the second half, a score that occurred after an atrocious holding call was made against Pittsburgh’s offense. “I’m just not. It’s fruitless. It doesn’t change the outcome of the game.”

When asked to assess the reasons why his team gave up a 23-7 lead, Tomlin nearly cracked. 

“We didn’t establish rhythm in the beginning of the second half,” Tomlin said. “We had a couple of drives killed by penalties, holding penalties…It’s catastrophic… You know, I’m gonna keep my mouth shut. I’m gonna keep my mouth shut… I’m gonna do that, because I’ve already sent enough money to New York. “

While Tomlin fought to restrain himself, Saints’ head coach Sean Payton could not hold back after watching the officials play a critical role in his team’s NFC title game loss. 

“It was simple. They blew the call,” Payton said after the game. “They said it should have never not been a call. They said not only was it interference, it was helmet to helmet. They couldn’t believe it. We spoke initially then I called to follow up.”

“The first thing [NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron] said on the phone: ‘We messed it up.'”

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