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Saints offer mixed reviews on Jimmy Graham Hail Mary penalty

METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said he understood why the officials made the pass interference call against tight end Jimmy Graham that wiped away a potential Hail Mary touchdown Sunday -- whether it was definitely a push-off or just the “illusion” of a push-off because Graham’s arms were extended.

But Payton quickly stressed that there were so many other pivotal plays during the Saints’ 27-24 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers that, “That was like the last thing on my mind when I got in here this morning was to look at that play.”

Graham wasn’t in the locker room Monday to discuss whether his opinion had changed. But he was adamant Sunday night that it wasn’t a push-off and that a flag shouldn’t have been thrown.

"It's interesting how guys grab me everywhere on the field, and I put literally two fingers on somebody and you make that kind of call," said Graham, who added, “That’s why I left basketball, so I could stop being penalized for hitting people.”

Saints cornerback Corey White, however, admitted that he thought it was “clearly pass interference” when asked his opinion from a defensive back’s perspective.

When told of Graham’s comments, White said, “Oh, he’s crazy. It was definitely pass interference. … As much as I like to defend my own teammates, I don’t want to lie either.”

White did acknowledge that cornerback Perrish Cox “did some acting, too. He sold it pretty well." But White said the fact Graham got his hands on Cox and extended his arms made it interference.

Payton was more noncommittal, agreeing that the arm extension is probably what made the officials throw the flag. And Payton said he thinks officials have started to look at contact on those plays more closely in recent years.

“Generally when you get down to those Hail Marys, there’s a lot of little pushing and shoving. And that one, the eyes were drawn specifically there. That one was a little bit clearer -- or the illusion of it was clearer -- for the officials to call,” Payton said. “Whether [Cox] went down on his own, it’s hard to say looking at it. I think the second hand out [with Graham], just the extension, can give that illusion. But they’re calling it tighter and, hey, we’ve gotta be able to adjust.”

Cox told Fox Sports on Sunday night that “it wasn’t a flop at all.”

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert analyzed just how rare such an offensive pass interference call is in those situations. According to ESPN Stats and Info, since the start of the 2001 season, there have been seven offensive pass interference calls in the final 10 seconds of either half when Hail Marys are likely to have occurred.