David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Almost immediately after the game, the NFL‘s league office confirmed to New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton the officiating crew missed two penalties on the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.
“Just getting off the phone with the league office,” Payton said to reporters, per the Times-Picayune‘s Josh Katzenstein. “They blew the call.”
According to Payton, the NFL said Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman should’ve been flagged for pass interference and a helmet-to-helmet hit when he made contact with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived, per Kristian Garic of WWL Radio in New Orleans.
Robey-Coleman admitted he was concerned with breaking up the pass at any cost.
“Yes, I got there too early,” he said, per The MMQB’s Robert Klemko. “I was beat, and I was trying to save the touchdown.”
The play in question happened on 3rd-and-10 with one minute, 48 seconds left in the game. Rather than receiving an automatic first down and setting up a 1st-and-goal, New Orleans had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Wil Lutz to take a 23-20 lead. Greg Zuerlein tied it up on a 48-yarder with 15 seconds left.
Payton didn’t hide how much the blown calls stung for his team.
Josh Katzenstein @jkatzenstein
Sean Payton: “I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference call.”
Jarrett Bell @JarrettBell
Sean Payton: “I hope no other team loses a game the way we lost that game.” #BadCallNFL https://t.co/q21Mw6cWQB
The Saints’ 2017 season ended when Case Keenum connected with Stefon Diggs for the “Minneapolis Miracle.” While that was a heartbreaking way for the year to end, New Orleans didn’t necessarily have a reason to feel aggrieved. Sure, Marcus Williams completely whiffed on his attempted tackle, but Diggs’ touchdown reception was mostly a fluke play that only happens so often.
Sunday’s game was different in that seemingly everybody but the officiating crew could see Nickell-Robey interfered with Lewis. While the mistake didn’t single-handedly cost the Saints the game, it undoubtedly provided the Rams with a lifeline.