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During the 2018 NFC Championship, the New Orleans Saints were on the receiving end of a terrible no-call by NFL officials late in the contest against the LA Rams. That’s undeniable. Even the league later acknowledged the egregious error made by its referees.

Some conspiracy theorists have taken it to another level suggesting that league officials have it out for the Saints for some unknown reason. After just three games in New Orleans, veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders recently appeared on a podcast and questioned if there might be some truth to those conspiracies. 

New Orleans Saints on receiving end of bad call in NFC Championship

It was the fourth quarter of the 2018 NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and LA Rams. The Superdome crowd was buzzing as quarterback Drew Brees led the Saints offense down the field late in the contest for what many thought would be the game-winning touchdown.  

The officiating in question happened on a play when Brees delivered a pass to Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis deep in Rams’ territory. LA cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman never turned around for the ball and plowed right through Lewis in a clear pass interference situation. No flag was thrown.

The New Orleans Saints ended up settling for a field goal, the game went into overtime, and New Orleans lost. There was outrage by Saints fans, NFL fans, and sports fans in general. After the botched no-call, the NFL acknowledged a pass interference call should have been made.

“It is a play that should be called,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in his state of the league address during Super Bowl week. “Whenever officiating is part of any kind of discussion postgame, it is never a good outcome for us. We know that, our clubs know that, our officials know that.” 

New Orleans Saints victimized by officials in 2019

Ironically, nine months later, the New Orleans Saints once again faced off against the Rams, this time in LA. In that contest, the officials nullified a go-ahead touchdown in the first half. It was a case of deja vu.

Fast forward to the 2019 playoffs and Wild Card game, where the Saints hosted the Minnesota Vikings. With the scored tied at 20-20, the two teams headed into overtime. In the extra frame, bad officiating struck the Saints again.

It happened on what turned out to be the game’s final play when Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins found tight end Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone. Just prior to making the catch, Rudolph appeared to push off against the Saints defender. There was no call. And there was no review.

New Orleans Saints fans exploded. Some showered the officials with trash. Others directed some of their favorite four-letter words to the men in stripes. It didn’t matter. The game was over. 

Emmanuel Sanders puzzled by officiating in Saints games

Three weeks into the 2020 NFL season and veteran receiver and two-time Pro Bowl receiver Emmanuel Sanders has watched multiple calls go against the New Orleans Saints, a team he joined in the offseason. And he has questions.  

“I’ve never seen the type of calls that they’re calling on the team over and over and over,” Sanders said on the 17 Weeks podcast. “I’ve never been a part of a team where we’re the second most penalized team. Now just being on the sideline it’s weird to see the penalties that happen. I’ve been in the league 11 years. I’ve never seen the calls that they make and then the calls that we don’t get, you know?”

In last weekend’s contest against the Green Bay Packers, the refs assessed 83 yards of penalties against the Saints on eight flags. The Packers were penalized twice. For the season, New Orleans ranks second behind the New York Jets with 331 total yards penalized. And Sanders is suspicious.

“Like, I see a running back running down the sideline and I see the cornerback get held and I know the refs see it but they don’t throw it. Sometimes I sit back and analyze like what the heck is going on with these refs?” 

While there’s no hard evidence indicating the officials are specifically targeting the New Orleans Saints, it is alarming that Sanders has noticed a trend so quickly in his short time with New Orleans. It will be interesting to see what happens the remainder of the season. And if the Saints make the playoffs, Goodell would be wise to send his best officiating crew to work the contest.