Robert Massey's sleight of hand may have cost the New Orleans Saints the game Sunday.
Massey was penalized for lining up offside on Chicago's field goal attempt with 9:18 left in the third quarter. Kevin Butler's 45-yard try was blocked by Renaldo Turnbull, and Vince Buck recovered the ball, racing 61 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown."After I ran down to the end zone, I thought 'that's six points,"' Buck said. "I just got it and ran - all I saw was green grass."
Buck thought he had lifted the Saints into a 10-10 tie, giving them a good chance of pulling a first-round NFC playoff upset.
But Massey's illegal positioning gave the ball back to the Bears. Six plays later, Butler had another chance, connecting on a 22-yard field goal en route to a 16-6 Chicago victory.
The Bears, 12-5, will visit the New York Giants next Sunday. The Saints can only watch the replay and weep.
"You can go back all year and look at 'could haves' and it still won't sink in because it's all over now," Buck said.
"That was a chicken call," New Orleans linebacker Pat Swilling said. "We could see Massey on the sidelines. The guy (official) hesitated with the flag. I don't know what he was thinking.
"It was a turning point. It could've been 10-10 and a dogfight. The game should be played on the field. The Bears won - that's over. I just think it should be officiated fairly."
Massey refused to talk to the media circling his locker, and Saints Coach Jim Mora stepped in, put his arm around the second-year cornerback and exchanged a few words.
"I don't think I was offside but he called me for it. That happens," Massey told Mora.
Mora believed his player.
"He (head linesman Leo Miles) called one of the players, Robert Massey, for lining up offsides," Mora said. "I was standing right there - I thought it was a close call. I thought it was a little picky myself. I really did. But obviously he must have been offside if he called it.
"But in a situation like that, if it's not a clear thing, you don't do it (throw the flag)," Mora said. "Maybe it was. I didn't think so. It's over with now."
"That took a lot out of me," said Buck, who was lined up on the opposite side from Massey. "That was the turning point."
The Saints, a wild card entry in the playoff derby, had plenty of other obstacles to overcome. Starting quarterback Steve Walsh suffered a second-degree shoulder separation late in the second quarter, and John Fourcade replaced him. Fourcade, who started the team's first five games, passed for more yardage than the Saints gained rushing , hitting 5 of 18 attempts for 79 yards.