DETROIT — It may not have even been a half-hour since a close defensive pass interference call negated a fourth-and-goal stop by the Saints that would’ve given them the ball back with a six-point lead and only 2:17 left in regulation against the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday when New Orleans coach Sean Payton did something rare.
He told the media about his displeasure over the officiating.
Payton was in his news conference following the Saints’ 24-23 defeat at Detroit discussing how his team needed a nail-in-the-coffin play after taking a 23-10 lead with 5:24 to go in the fourth quarter when he interrupted himself and said, “I wasn’t happy with how that game was officiated.”
“I thought the penalties ended up hurting us,” said Payton, who was careful to add that wasn’t the sole reason his team failed to come up with a win. “I’m going to leave it at that.”
Officials on Sunday penalized the Saints (2-4) on a dozen occasions for 134 yards. New Orleans’ previous high in penalties this season had been six for 50 yards during its 37-31 overtime victory at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yet at least a few of the calls drew widespread derision from users on social media, and television cameras captured Payton having words with the referees after some flags.
Among the plays that generated lots of backlash in New Orleans were a pair of pass interference whistles on offense and defense in the second and third quarter, respectively.
On the defensive pass interference, from New Orleans’ 39-yard line, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford sought wide receiver Golden Tate deep down the left side of the field. Rookie cornerback Brian Dixon was covering Tate well, but Dixon tripped. It appeared his feet unintentionally became tangled with Tate’s, and they both tumbled to the turf.
The official closest to the play didn’t throw a flag. But one further up the field tossed his, and the Lions got the ball at the Saints’ 8 — a 31-yard penalty. Detroit’s Matt Prater bounced a 21-yard field goal off an upright to cut into the Saints’ 7-0 lead by three points with 5:33 left in the first half.
Wide receiver Marques Colston was hit with an offensive pass interference on a pick play that had resulted in a 15-yard reception for running back Pierre Thomas. But the 10-yard penalty negated the gain, and the Saints soon punted from their 15.
However, neither of those flags was as costly for New Orleans as the one officials slapped safety Rafael Bush with while he defended former Saints running back Reggie Bush on a short fourth-and-goal throw from the 9 that fell incomplete with Detroit (5-2) trailing 23-17 and just more than two minutes to go.
Reggie Bush was running an out route to the left when Rafael Bush came up behind him and stretched his left arm out in an effort to bat the ball away. A video replay showed Rafael Bush’s right glove was at least resting around Reggie Bush’s right side as a throw from Stafford sailed wide of the Lions running back, but it wasn’t conclusive whether that at all interfered with the play.
The officials gave Detroit a new set of downs at the Saints’ 6, and first-year Lions receiver Corey Fuller caught his first career touchdown from 5 yards out to give Detroit a 24-23 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Certainly, the Saints squandered chances to put the game away after seizing a 13-point lead late in the game. They instead gave up a 73-yard touchdown to Tate, threw an interception that preceded Fuller’s score and turned the ball over on downs at their 40 with 21 seconds left in the contest while facing a one-point deficit.
Still, Payton believed officials’ calls he disagreed with did enough to influence the outcome that he mentioned them unprompted in his briefing with reporters afterward.