Missed pass-interference penalties can be challenged in the Canadian Football League. Those plays might be reviewable in the NFL next season, too, after the worst missed call in recent memory likely cost the Saints a Super Bowl berth.
With just under two minutes remaining in Sunday’s NFC championship game and the score tied at 20, the Saints were well within field goal range after Ted Ginn Jr. caught a ball over safety Lamarcus Joyner at the Rams’ 13-yard line. Three plays later the Saints faced a third-and-10, and a conversion would’ve meant that they’d be able to bleed the clock to near double zeros and attempt a chip-shot field goal that would’ve likely sent them to the Super Bowl. Brees looked for receiver Tommylee Lewis, but Lewis got creamed by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman NFL Street–style before the ball came in.
It’s as obvious a pass-interference penalty as you’ll see. There was only one problem: A flag never came.
The refs had been reluctant to call pass interference earlier in the game, including this noncall on Robey-Coleman on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But the hit on Lewis took it to another level. It was a mauling, and it looked like the rule-book definition of pass interference: He hit the receiver before the pass got there and didn’t play the ball. But it went uncalled in the biggest moment of the NFC championship game.
After the game Robey-Coleman told ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry that a referee said that the play was not called a penalty because the ball was tipped, making contact between him and Lewis legal. Looking at the video, it doesn’t seem like the ball was tipped by anyone.
When showed the replay by The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, the cornerback agreed it looked like pass interference.
Saints coach Sean Payton said at his postgame press conference that the refs blew the call, and he had already contacted the league office.
New Orleans was forced to kick the field goal, leaving the Rams 1:41 to come back down the field.
And come back they did. The Rams set up kicker Greg Zuerlein in field goal range in nine plays in under 90 seconds. Zuerlein’s 48-yard kick faded in line for a make and then back out for the miss, seemingly confirming the edict “ball don’t lie.” But the ball swerved back through the uprights at the last second.
The game went to overtime, and it didn’t take long for “ball don’t lie” to fail the Saints again. Three plays into the opening drive of OT, Brees was hit while throwing by Dante Fowler Jr., and the wounded-duck pass ended up in the arms of Rams safety John Johnson III.
Five plays, two minutes, and nearly 75,000 broken hearts in the Superdome later, Zuerlein nailed the game-winning 57-yard field goal. From Payton to Mark Ingram to Cam Jordan, the Saints struggled to put the feeling into words in the locker room after the game. One year after the Minneapolis Miracle, the Saints were felled by perhaps the worst officiating mistake of the decade. Sometimes, the ball does lie. Perhaps we should consult the Canadians.
Tommylee Lewis, the Saints’ receiver involved in the controversial play in the NFC championship game, has signed with the Detroit Lions.
The Lions announced the signing Tuesday.
Lewis spent three seasons with the Saints, playing both receiver and on special teams.
He caught 20 passes for 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns in New Orleans. He also averaged 9.3 yards on punt returns and 22 yards on kickoff returns.
But the 5-foot-7 Lewis will be remembered most for being involved in the play that helped end the Saints season. Drew Brees was throwing to Lewis in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game when Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman hit Lewis before the ball arrived. Robey-Coleman should have been flagged for pass interference on the play, as well as helmet-to-helmet contact. No flag was thrown and the Saints had to settle for a field goal and ended up losing 26-23 in overtime, sending the Rams to the Super Bowl.
Lewis was set to become a restricted free agent this offseason, which would have allowed the Saints to match any team’s offer. But the Saints did not tender Lewis a contract before the start of the new league year, thus making him an unrestricted free agent.
If Lions fans have heard of Tommylee Lewis, it’s likely from the NFC championship game. He was the Saints receiver who was interfered with by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman in the red zone on the infamous play where no penalty was called, allowing the Rams to beat New Orleans and advance to the Super Bowl.
Now Lewis is a Lion. The 26-year-old signed with Detroit after not being tendered as a restricted free agent by the Saints.
What are the Lions getting with the uniquely named Lewis?
The first thing anyone notices about Lewis is his size … or lack thereof. He’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 168 pounds, but both of those seem generous when you meet him in person. When he stands next to former Northern Illinois teammate Kenny Golladay, it might look like Schwarzenegger and DeVito in “Twins”.
That interplay with Golladay that impressed in the MAC back in 2015 offers a hint of what can happen in Detroit, too.
Lewis is almost exclusively a slot receiver. Aside from the obvious size issue, he’s also not incredibly fast in open space. He thrives on quickness, having smaller steps and turn radius than those guarding him.
In New Orleans, he caught just 20 passes in three seasons as a part-time reserve. He’s such a small target and his routes don’t have the precision of fellow Detroit newcomer Danny Amendola, who is both bigger and more physical in the slot.
Where Lewis earned his roster spot in New Orleans was on special teams, primarily as a punt returner. It’s there where his ability to accelerate and operate in space really shine. He does have that “chase” gear with the ball in his hands, making his timed 4.45-second 40-yard dash seem oddly slow.
Durability will be an issue, too. He missed more than half of 2018 on IR. I attended two Northern Illinois games during his college career, in separate seasons. He missed both with different injuries.
Lewis figures to take over the No. 2 slot receiver role behind Amendola and emerge as Detroit’s primary punt returner and perhaps kick returner. He’ll battle Brandon Powell for the receiving reps, though Lewis is both faster and quicker out of breaks. It’s a low-risk, low-expectations signing that builds some depth with NFL experience at what is perhaps the Lions’ weakest position.