The NFL publicly acknowledged on Sunday that its officiating crew blew a key call near the end of a controversial NFC Championship Game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams, but argued in federal court that authorities cannot force the league to correct the error.
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The league made its argument in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of two Saints season-ticket holders who are attempting to force the NFL to take action on the missed call. Referees failed to call a clear pass interference penalty that would have likely sealed a victory for the Saints. Instead, the Rams regained possession of the ball, tied the game on a last-second field goal and won in overtime.
“Because the officials on the field are humans, like the players and coaches, errors will happen,” the NFL’s attorneys said in a brief filed in U.S. District Court on Sunday and obtained by USA Today. “The NFL parties do not dispute that they have previously advised the Saints, including the club’s head coach, that one or more penalties for pass interference or illegal helmet-to-helmet contact were mistakenly not called late in the NFC Championship Game, and that the NFL would like its officials on the field to make these calls.”
The plaintiffs are pushing for a judge to order NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to invoke “Rule 17,” a clause which could, in theory, allow him to take “corrective measures” to address the missed call. However, the NFL’s lawyers argued that a court could not force Goodell to take those “corrective measures.”
“The Commissioner’s discretion under NFL Rule 17 to take ‘corrective measures,’ even to direct the re-playing of all or a portion of a game, is just that — discretion — and not a mandate or a ministerial act a Court can require him to undertake,” the brief said.
While the court documents constitute the NFL’s first “on the record” statement regarding the missed call, Goodell has yet to personally address the situation. The NFL has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
Super Bowl LIII between the Rams and the New England Patriots is set to take place on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET.