The officials gave, and the officials took away.
The former, fortuitously in favor of the New Orleans Saints; the latter, painfully against. And while the result on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – a 35-34 victory by Oakland over New Orleans in the regular-season opener – can't be pinned to a few calls, a few definitely made a mark in a game that the Saints wanted to win to ensure a fast start, but ultimately dropped as a 61-yard field-goal attempt by rookie kicker Wil Lutz just slid past the left upright as time expired.
It will not surprise if each team seeks clarification from the league office Monday as to whether the penalties (14 vs. the Raiders, seven vs. the Saints) correctly were assessed.
Four penalties on two fourth-quarter drives – two against each team – were enough to raise the ire of the Raiders and Saints down the stretch.
For Oakland, it was this: With the Raiders having pulled to within 24-19 on Jamize Olawale's 2-yard touchdown run (and a failed two-point conversion attempt) with 11:53 left, the Saints took over at their 29-yard line following a 26-yard kickoff return.
On first down, Drew Brees' deep pass attempt for Travaris Cadet down the left sideline was incomplete, but linebacker Malcolm Smith was penalized for pass interference. Two plays and six yards after that 23-yard bump, Raiders cornerback DJ Hayden interfered with receiver Brandin Cooks down the left sideline, giving New Orleans another bonus of 17 yards.
Five plays later, Lutz's 20-yard field goal was partially blocked, but muscled over the crossbar for a 27-19 Saints lead.
For the Saints, it was this: nursing a 34-27 lead with 6:03 left, the defense took the field with Oakland needing to drive 75 yards for a touchdown. The Raiders drove to the Saints' 41 on four plays where, on third-and-4, quarterback Derek Carr threw incomplete for Amari Cooper. But Saints cornerback P.J. Williams, making his first career start, was penalized for holding on the play, giving the Raiders five yards and an automatic first down.
Six plays later, an even bigger call: On fourth-and-5 from the Saints' 18-yard line, Carr threw incomplete for running back Jalen Richard on the right sideline. But the officials ruled that linebacker Craig Robertson snuggled up a little too closely to Richard and reached him too early, eliminating the possibility of a catch. Armed with a new set of downs following the 5-yard penalty, the Raiders scored two plays later on a pass from Carr to Seth Roberts.
The two-point conversion attempt was successful – a pass from Carr to Michael Crabtree – and the Raiders averted catastrophe, from Crabtree's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after scoring, when Lutz's potential game-winner barely sailed wide.
"I'm not going to start the season off complaining about the officials," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "We have to play better, however, because that's just one play and it's a fourth-down call. We have to be able to get off the field. I didn't agree with it, and yet, this crew had been calling a pretty tight game for the most part."
Check out the Saints in action in their season opener against the Raiders.