Sean Payton wasn't happy with the officials after a 41-38 loss to the Carolina Panthers and he had a point. On at least two important plays in the game, the Panthers had 12 men in the offensive huddle and the officials kept the flags in their pockets, helping to set up Carolina touchdowns.
"I'm not going to get into the officiating," Payton said after the game, although he couldn't help himself. "I said walking into this door I was not going to get into it. And it happened twice, 12 (men) on the field, clearly, and they're getting that right on Friday nights."
The first of the violations by the Panthers came in the first quarter after a 9-yard pass to Greg Olsen set up a fourth-and-1 situation in New Orleans territory. While the broadcast cut away from the huddle, it showed 12 men, including running back Mike Tolbert. When the broadcast returned to the same angle, there were 11 in the huddle and Tolbert was gone.
Payton called timeout before the snap and a replay from FOX showed Tolbert leaving the huddle late, which frustrated Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, despite the fact that no penalty was called.
After Payton's timeout, which he used to yell at the officials about their blatant miss of a 12-man huddle, Cam Newton ran for 30 yards to extend the drive and, three plays later, he connected with Tolbert for a 12-yard touchdown pass to cut the Saints lead to 14-7.
Two years ago, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino explained that the San Francisco 49ers were not assessed a penalty for having 12 men in the huddle because the play clock was not running at the time of the huddle. Via Pro Football Talk:
"The play clock has not started, and you can't have a penalty for 12 in the huddle until the play clock has started," Blandino said on NFL Network. "That was handled properly, and they had 11 men when the play clock had started."
This was not the case for the Panthers, as Tolbert didn't leave the huddle until less than 20 seconds were left on the play clock.
In the second half, an even more egregious example of 12 men on the field for the Panthers had Payton livid with officials. On a second-and-goal situation on the 1-yard line, the Panthers not only had 12 in the huddle, but lined up with 12 for the snap before Rivera called a timeout to avoid a penalty.
Payton threw his red challenge flag so officials could review if 12 men were on the field, but after a quick review, officials determined that it was a play that couldn't be challenged.
FOX officiating expert Mike Pereira explained the officials' decision not to penalize the Panthers:
"Sean Payton tried to challenge that the Panthers had 12 men in the huddle, which they did," Pereira said in an explanation posted on Twitter. "But that's not reviewable...What is reviewable is now that they've lined up with 12 on the field ready to snap the ball. If there is a snap and the offense has 12 men on the field, that would be reviewable, but there was no snap because actually Carolina called timeout before there was a snap. So there was no play, no foul, no challenge."
The Panthers were held to a 2-yard loss on the ensuing play and then assessed a holding penalty on third down, so even without the 12-men penalty, the team was still backed up by officials. However, a 13-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Ted Ginn, Jr. gave the Panthers a 20-16 lead.
At his press conference on Monday, Payton was still angry about the missed calls, even after a phone call with Blandino. He said that officials also missed a third 12-man huddle for the Panthers on Carolina's game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
The Saints dropped to 4-8 with the loss and are all but eliminated from postseason contention, while the Panthers improved to 12-0 and clinched the NFC South on Sunday.
By the end of the game, the Panthers managed to rack up a season-high 497 yards, so the issues for the Saints went beyond the missed calls by officials. But Payton's issues with at least two blatant misses of 12 men in the huddle certainly have justification.NFL Week 13: Nothing can stop Cam Newton from giving a child a football