Officials missed a critical penalty on Sunday that had implications for both the playoffs and the safety of Tennessee Titans receiver Kalif Raymond.
Late in their matchup with New Orleans Saints, the Titans had a chance to take control of their own playoff path.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had just lost to the New York Jets, giving the Titans the inside track to the second wild-card berth in the AFC if they could mount a late comeback against the Saints.
Big hit leads to pivotal fumble
Trailing 31-28 in the fourth quarter, the Titans took over possession at their own 38 with 4:23 remaining. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked deep down field to Raymond, who beat Janoris Jenkins on a double move to make the grab over midfield.
As he made the catch, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson dropped in from zone coverage and leveled Raymond from behind, forcing a fumble that the Saints recovered.
Officials reviewed the play to determine if Raymond had control of the ball before the fumble or if it was an incomplete pass. It was ruled a catch and a fumble, and the Saints took over possession.
Officials missed hit to the head
But officials on the field missed an obvious hit to the head on a defenseless receiver that should have ruled the fumble moot to begin with.
Replay showed Johnson lower his left shoulder pad into Raymond’s helmet as Raymond was coming down with the ball. The replay above shows Raymond go limp before dropping the ball. Another angle on the Fox broadcast showed clear contact from Johnson’s shoulder pad to Raymond’s head.
Even though Fox’s broadcast team neglected to acknowledge the illegal hit in their analysis of the play, it was a pivotal missed call.
Johnson was injured
Raymond remained motionless on the field for several moments before walking off the field with the assistance of athletic trainers.
Meanwhile the Saints took over possession and scored a clinching touchdown in their 38-28 victory. A correct call would have resulted in a 15-yard penalty with the Titans retaining possession with a first down with around four minutes remaining.
Mike Vrabel unhappy
Titans coach Mike Vrabel was upset about the no-call after the game.
“You want to ask me if I thought that was a hit to the head of a defenseless receiver?” Vrabel asked a reporter in his postgame news conference. “I did. But again, they didn’t see it that way.”
This shouldn’t happen
The Titans are still alive at 8-7 and can clinch the final playoff spot in the AFC if they beat the Houston Texans in the regular-season finale or the Steelers lose to the Baltimore Ravens. Meanwhile, the Saints improve to 12-3 as they fight for a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
More important, it was a case of NFL officials not doing their job to protect player safety.
Raymond took a violent illegal hit that resulted in a head injury. There’s no excuse in 2019 for the NFL to allow that to happen without penalty.
More from Yahoo Sports: