The New Orleans Saints’ pain was already profuse. Now it’s compounded by confirmation of a massive error in judgment.
The Saints lost 26-23 in overtime to the visiting Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game. Greg Zuerlein converted a 57-yard field goal in overtime to send the Rams to Super Bowl LII in Atlanta, where they’ll face the New England Patriots.
With 1:45 left in the regulation on 3rd-and-10 from the Rams’ 13-yard line, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman bulldozed Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis and made helmet-to-helmet contact before the ball arrived.
“Just getting off the phone with the league office … they blew the call.”
Sean Payton expressed his frustration at the missed pass interference called in his postgame presser. pic.twitter.com/S9RcBV3heP
— ESPN (@espn) January 21, 2019
“It was simple. They blew the call. They said it should never have not been a call,” Payton said to ESPN. “They said not only was it interference, it was helmet-to-helmet. They just — they couldn’t believe it. For a call like that not to be made, man, it’s just hard to swallow. And then to get a phone call …We spoke initially, then I called to follow up. And the first thing [head of officials Alberto Riveron] said when I got on the phone — ‘We messed it up.'”
Payton understands the challenge of making decisions in real time, yet is still dumbfounded at the call.
“Listen, it’s a hard job for those guys ’cause it’s happening fast,” Payton said. “But I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference call that — here it is, the NFC Championship Game. So, it’s a tough one to swallow.”
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 21, 2019
For a moment, Robey-Coleman believed his action would warrant a penalty, however an official on the field informed him he thought the ball was tipped. Replays definitely determined that didn’t happen.
“I thought it was for a split-second; but the ref got up — when I got up, he said, ‘Incomplete,’ so I just was like, ‘Thank you,'” Robey-Coleman said to ESPN. “I didn’t look back at the ball. I didn’t play the ball. If I had played the ball, then it would’ve been a different story. … And then the ref said, like, it looked it was a tip. Like, it was, like, tipped. So I was like, ‘OK, cool.'”
Lewis was at a loss for words afterwards.
“I feel like it was obvious. I mean, there it is. Everybody know it was obvious,” Lewis said to ESPN. “I mean, there is nothing else. … I don’t know what else to say about it.”
Drew Brees expressed his frustration to CST’s Mike Nabors in the postgame interview.
Brees ultimately isn’t placing the blame of the loss on the officials though.
“At the end of the day, we as players can only control the things that we can control. A lot of that stuff is out of our control,” Brees said. “We played the game to the best of our ability. We played with great fundamentals and technique. Sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t.”
Just like after the Minnesota Miracle, this offseason will need to be a time of healing and recharging.
2018: “The Minneapolis Miracle”
2019: The missed pass interference call
Back-to-back brutal endings for the Saints in the postseason 😬 pic.twitter.com/HBDvbD4bez
— ESPN (@espn) January 21, 2019
Once the rawness of this latest wound subsides, the Saints can take pride in what was a memorable season—even though they didn’t accomplish their ultimate goal.
“Obviously, it’s a disappointing way to lose a game. Frustrating. And, man — there were a lot of opportunities, though — but that call puts it first-and-10, we’re on a knee three plays, and it’s a game-changing call,” Payton said to ESPN. “So what do you do? You get back up, and you got to work. This will be a tough one for these players, for the coaches. … But it happened, though, so we can’t dwell on it. And we’ll probably never get over it.”