It was the non-call heard round the football world, from the French Quarter to Hollywood & Vine.
Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman hit New Orleans Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis early on a Drew Brees pass attempt with less than two minutes remaining and the NFC Championship Game tied at 20. A flag for pass interference not only would have given the Saints a first down, but they conceivably could have run the clock down and put up seven points.
As it was, New Orleans kicked a field goal with 1:41 remaining to take the lead. But the Rams got a field goal to tie, and then won with another 3-pointer in overtime.
Saints coach Sean Payton was outraged. So were his players, Saints fans, the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. Lawsuits have been filed. Letters from government officials have been fired off to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Will there be rules changes? Will review be added for subjective penalties? Our reporters got players and coaches at the Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida, and the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, to weigh in.
Jacksonville Jaguars DE and player rep Calais Campbell: “I think what it comes down to, you can’t get replay involved in that because you open up a can of worms where it’s not just pass interference, it’s offensive holding, defensive holding. It’s illegal contact. All that comes into play. And really, if you think about it, there’s a penalty on almost every play of the game if you really wanted to call it, if you wanted to nitpick; so you throw cameras in there, it’s going to change everything. Camera angles slow down. You cannot open up a can of worms. But what you can do is you can try to prepare the referees better, because they can’t miss that call. In those clutch situations, in that moment, he has to make that call. So, you have to prepare the referees better, and whatever the consequences are for him missing the call maybe make those public. ... But at the end of the day, you can’t have replay, in my opinion.”
Philadelphia Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins: “That’s tough for the guys that play for the Saints. Because you put in a ton of work. It’s really hard to get there. If you think about it, the Saints, the last time they were in that situation was 2009, when you were the No. 1 seed; you win all those games, you get home-field advantage, you’re one play away from going to the Super Bowl. A blatant call is missed and it’s really taken out of your control. That’s tough to eat as a player, as a coach or anybody in that organization. But what can you do?
“I don’t think we needed a replay to see that. It wasn’t like it was a bang-bang call. It was pretty obvious. ... I don’t think replay is the solution for that. It’s just, ‘Get the call right.’
“That’s the thing: You have human error. That is part of the game. I don’t think you should make everything reviewable. It just slows down the game. But that play, in particular, is obviously very unfortunate.”
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams: “It was a terrible no-call. I mean, I like to stay away from the refs as much as possible, but that’s unacceptable. And they need to see the guy on the replay after kind of telling them after, it kind of looked like one of the guys wanted to throw a flag and they were waving him off to not throw the flag. To see that, it kind of brings up all the conspiracy theories and all of that stuff. Like I said, I stay away from that. But things like that, it’s tough, because it puts you in a position where now the ref is taking control of the game and usually you want to say that that doesn’t make a difference or you can't blame it on one call, but in the NFC Championship Game, that can make or break your chances of going to the Super Bowl. It’s tough, but we’ll see what the league does about it.
“I think you should be able to challenge no-calls or calls, have two challenges regular and then maybe even one challenge to challenge a play of a penalty, like a hold. When we played the Vikings earlier and we had a pick to seal the game and they called roughing on [Clay Matthews], you should be able to review that, to see if it really was, if he fell on him, and we’ll go from there. But it’s just tough.
“You should definitely have the option to review some of those plays.”
Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner: “It’s just unfortunate that a play came down to that, but I think it’s hard to say that that was the main reason. There were so many things in the game that happened. ... If you just say that, you take away from the Rams' season and what they were able to accomplish.”
On making all plays reviewable
“It doesn’t really matter. Because at the end of the day, they’re not reviewing offensive plays," Wagner continued. "All of the rule changes are going to be toward the defense, so we have to adjust. It is what it is.
“It was only like that until somebody that they wanted to win lost, so you better start figuring out heads and tails.
“You’ve gotta put more on your defense. You’ve gotta do the job. That’s how I look at it.”
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper: “It was a really good game, man. Really competitive game. But the no-call ... Aww, man. ... You have to make that call. And I don’t know, it’s pretty weird, because if you watch a lot of football, you know on every pass interference call the ref can go out there and throw the flag late. Like if he’s indecisive about whether it’s a pass interference at first, he can throw it a couple seconds late. And that was a blatant, obvious pass interference and helmet-to-helmet, so I don’t understand why he didn’t go out and say [it]. I did see like a replay where the referee wanted to throw the flag but the head referee or the other referee was telling him not to throw it, so it was pretty weird.
Stephen A.: I blame the league office
Stephen A. Smith says the missed call is on the league office for not changing the rules.
“Rules are rules. When you think about refereeing, you have to understand that they are people, so they make mistakes. I think if everything was reviewable, I think it would be better, because sometimes they throw flags when it’s not a flag, so sometimes they go back and say there’s no foul on the play, so why shouldn’t be the same in reverse?”
“Hate for it to come down to it, but the game ain’t perfect. It is what it is. The refs didn’t make the call, so you’ve just gotta keep playing.”
San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan: "I thought the same thing as everyone else. It was obviously pass interference. But they missed it. That happens a lot. You get used to it as a coach. You just have to deal with it.
"I’d like to see when things are obvious and everyone in the world knows, they should do whatever it takes to get it right."
Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden: "I talked to Sean Payton yesterday. It’s a disappointing way to lose a game, but I don’t know what the ramifications of that are going to be. We all saw it. We all know there will be some action taken, I’m sure.
"What do you say to your team? It’s tough. You lose a game like that, it’s tough. It’s tough to lose, period. Somebody had to lose, unfortunately. It’s just a shame it came down to that.”
ESPN reporters Jenna Laine, Michael DiRocco, Paul Gutierrez and Alex Scarborough contributed to this report.