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Payton: Saints ‘probably never get over’ controversial loss

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By Agence France-Presse

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton says his team “will probably never get over” a controversial late-game call that played a major role in keeping them from Super Bowl 53.

The Los Angeles Rams edged the Saints 26-23 in overtime Sunday to advance to the February 3 NFL championship spectacle in Atlanta, but Payton feels like the Rams should never have had the chance to force overtime.

The game was deadlocked at 20-20 when Drew Brees threw a third-down pass to Tommylee Lewis and Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman ran into Lewis before the ball arrived. But no penalty flag was thrown on the play.

Speaking after the game, referee crew chief Bill Vinovich said the no-call was “a judgment call by the covering official” and that the fact that the play took place in the tension-packed final minutes of the game “absolutely (did) not” have an impact on the official’s decision.

Payton, however, went to NFL vice president of officiating Al Riverton and said he was told, “We messed it up.”

“Just getting off the phone with the league office. They blew the call,” Payton said. “I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference call.”

The play, not a reviewable play under NFL video review rules, was ruled an incomplete pass and led to a 31-yard Wil Lutz field goal for the Saints.

But it left 1:41 on the clock and the Rams equalized on Greg Zuerlein’s 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining in regulation. Zuerlein hit a 57-yarder in over-time to win for the Rams.

Payton argued that the Saints should have had an automatic first down on the penalty and could have run the game clock to the final seconds before making their field goal attempt from point-blank range on the final play, likely sending them to the Super Bowl instead of the Rams.

“It’s tough to get over it,” Payton said. “It was as obvious a call (as could be) and how two guys can look at that and come up and arrive with their decision…

“It happened though, so we can’t dwell on it. We’ll probably never get over it.”

Payton, who is on the NFL Competition Committee, called for greater use of replay in such situations.

“It’s a tough way to lose a game, especially when you’re in a position like that to win it,” Payton said. “All more reason we need more replay.

“We all want to get it right. We’ve got the technology where we can.”

The Saints were knocked out of the playoffs a season ago when a desperation final pass by Minnesota resulted in a touchdown. But this time, they will shake their heads at officials.

“We lose a chance to go to the Super Bowl with a call like that. It’s just disappointing,” Payton said. “I hope no other team has to lose a game the way we lost that one today.”