NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Sean Payton was glassy-eyed, calm and shrugged his shoulders at times, seemingly resigned to New Orleans’ bitter fate — as unfair as he thought it was.
And the Saints coach said NFL executives he spoke with by phone after a 26-23 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams agreed with him that officials on the field missed two obvious penalties on one late, game-turning play that might have prevented the Saints from advancing to the Super Bowl.
Officials could have called pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman as he flattened Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis on an incomplete pass with 1:45 left in the game. The play occurred in close range of two officials along the sideline who never reached for their flags.
NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron “couldn’t believe” no penalty call was called on the play, Payton said.
“It’s tough to get over it,” Payton said. “My problem with it is, I just don’t know, if we were playing pickup football in the backyard … it was as obvious a call — and how two guys can look at that and arrive at their decision? It happened though.”
As loud, anger-infused boos rained down relentlessly from the Superdome stands, replays on the stadium’s expansive video screens clearly showed Robey-Coleman’s high hit occurring before Drew Brees’ pass toward the right sideline arrived.
“I bounced up looking for a flag and didn’t see one, so I was kind of shocked about that,” Lewis said. “I saw what everybody else saw. … You all feel like it was obvious? There it is. Everybody knows it was obvious. I don’t know what else to say about it.”
Had a flag been thrown, the Saints would have run the clock down to the final seconds before setting up a short field goal try clinch the franchise’s second NFC title, Payton said.
“We’ll probably never get over it,” Payton continued. “The truth is, one like that, it’s too bad.
“But we go into these league meetings and we sit as an ownership group and we don’t further evaluate the replay system. There’s just too much at stake. And listen, it’s a hard job for those guys. It’s happening fast. But I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference.
“We all want to get it right, right? We’ve got plenty of technology to speed things up,” Payton added. “Look, I’m on the competition committee. So, hopefully that provides a voice. I hope no other team has to lose a game the way we lost that one today, though. We were in position. … We’d be on our knee for three plays and — it’s disappointing.”