The Saints, their coach and their fans were quite upset at a controversial moment in Sunday's loss to the 49ers, and really, who could blame them? After the way the NFC Championship game ended last year, it's going to take decades for those feelings of being cheated to wear off.
This time, though, their complaints didn't hold any water.
Late in the third quarter, New Orleans opted for a fake punt, as swiss-army knife Taysom Hill took the snap before launching a long pass down the right sideline intended for receiver Tre'Quan Smith. Smith, however, was absolutely blanketed by 49ers defensive back Tarvarius Moore, and the pass fell incomplete. No penalty flag was thrown, as boos rained down from Mercedez-Benz Superdome. Saints coach Sean Payton vehemently protested what he viewed as a blown call to the officials, but in fact, he was in the wrong, and the officials ruled correctly.
Per NFL rules, there is no such thing as pass interference in that situation.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 8, 2019
"This is absolutely the correct ruling," Fox Sports rules analyst Dean Blandino explained on the telecast. "When you're in a punt formation and you attempt a fake, you can't have pass interference on the widest man on either side of the formation."
Unlike the vast majority of New Orleans, apparently, Moore knew the correct rule, and took advantage of it.
I don’t make the rules, I just play by them 🥴🤷🏾♂️— tmoore601 (@tarvarius2) December 8, 2019
If that particular rule didn't exist, teams could just run fake punts every single time and be basically guaranteed of extending their drive. The defenders blocking the outside gunners on punt coverage have no way of seeing the developing play behind them, and thus are at too great of a disadvantage for that rule not to be in place.
Cameras later appeared to catch Payton calling for a holding penalty, rather than pass interference. Holding is possible on a punt play, so the officials could have called that, but they didn't, and it's not a reviewable penalty.
And really, if the Saints still want to act like they got screwed because of a missed holding penalty, they aren't going to get much sympathy, considering that happens on just about every play during an NFL game.
You don't necessarily have to agree with the rules, but you do have to play by them. Obviously, it helps to know what they are.