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Sean Payton's New Orleans Saints were robbed of an interception in last Sunday's hard-fought loss to the Tennessee Titans when his team was flagged with a questionable roughing-the-passer call.
Payton declined to talk about the call immediately following the game. The next day Payton was only slightly more open on speaking about the call, saying on WWL Radio, “Look, the foul’s called ‘roughing.’ I can’t talk about any one foul that’s called. But that's a big call at that point in the game."
On Thursday morning, Payton spoke more broadly about NFL officiating — a season-long concern in 2021 — and started to arrive at his truer feelings on the matter.
Appearing on The Dan Patrick Show, Payton said, "We have to improve [officiating]. We have to. Everyone watching it and participating in it and involved in it deserves better."
“Those kinds of things can’t happen… I look at it more from an overall leadership perspective and training perspective. Those problems start at the top, not with the individual crews.” https://t.co/hZyOpvAuYc
— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) November 18, 2021
Why shaky officiating takes on even greater significance now
Coaches and fans have been grumbling about officiating for years — that part isn't new. But with the proliferation of legalized gambling, along with the NFL's embracement of it, the stakes have been raised. Quite significantly, it would seem.
So when he was asked about the state of officiating in the 2021 NFL season, Payton even mentioned another team's misfortune, bringing up how the Chicago Bears were seemingly hosed on multiple calls in a prime-time loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I think it's being over-officiated," Payton said. "I sat in on the discussions. I don't think any of us that discussed it saw it [going] where it is now."
There have been 30 taunting flags through the first 10 weeks of the 2021 NFL season, per nflpenalties.com. In 2020, only 10 were called across the entire league for all 17 weeks. The total number of taunting calls for the 2019 season was eight.
The 30 taunting calls already represent the most called in a season for more than a decade. The site's data dates back to the 2009 season. The highest season-long total (other than this season) in that span was 29 taunting calls in 2013.
And in the case of taunting, Payton isn't just talking about his own team. In fact, his team really hasn't been hit hard by that particular call. The Saints have had only one taunting flag thrown against them this season and actually have benefited from two opponents' taunting calls enforced in their games.
Payton offers a possible fix to the officiating issue
Payton believes that the league needs full-time officials who can have weekly meetings to review rule changes and implementation and get all 17 officiating crews on the same page. The inconsistency is seemingly what most irks coaches, with Payton believing that such a change could help “reduce the variables.”
“Those kinds of things can’t happen," Payton said. "I look at it more from an overall leadership perspective and training perspective. Those problems start at the top, not with the individual crews.”
Also notable is the fact that Payton recently left the NFL's competition committee, which was one of the driving forces behind the league's newly expanded enforcement of taunting calls, a particularly buzzy issue in light of the Bears game and other high-profile examples this season.
Asked why he left the committee, Payton gave a Marshawn Lynch-ian response.
Sean Payton said he’s off the competition committee. Said it was time. “I’ll leave it at that so I don’t get fined.”
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) November 12, 2021
It will be fascinating to see if Payton is fined for his increasingly liberal comments on the league's rules-enforcement issue.