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NFL Officials Miss Blatantly Obvious Penalty Late In Rams-Saints NFC Championship Game

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Sometimes, officiating in the NFL is extremely difficult to do. Other times, it's quite easy.

A play late in the fourth quarter on Sunday afternoon in New Orleans would be filed under the latter category, but the officials on the field nevertheless made a ghastly error in one of the biggest spots imaginable.

The situation: The Saints called a pass play on a third-and-10 at the Rams' 13-yard line with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Drew Brees threw a pass toward Tommylee Lewis up the right sideline. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman delivered a big hit on Lewis, long before the ball arrived, knocking the running back to the ground.

It was an obvious case of pass interference, and had it been enforced, it would have given the Saints a new set of downs and would have given them the opportunity to likely run the clock down before kicking the game-winning field goal in the final seconds.

Instead, the Saints had to kick their field goal with 1:45 left in the game. The Rams answered with a 45-yard drive and a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime.

The reaction to the call was universal: the officials missed a big one.

The referee for Sunday's game was Bill Vinovich. The rest of the crew included umpire Bruce Stritesky, down judge Patrick Turner, line judge Rusty Baynes, field judge Tom Hill, side judge Gary Cavaletto, and back judge Todd Prukop.

Considering the Rams eventually won in overtime, it was a non-call that can be described as one that cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. For the NFL, it was as bad as it possibly could have been.

After the game, Saints head coach Sean Payton said that the league admitted to him that it was a blown call.

Vinovich spoke to a pool reporter after the game. He offered no explanation for the non-call, saying it was a judgment call and that he had not seen it himself.

Folks in New Orleans will be lamenting that one for a very, very long time.

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