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Saints fan starts petition demanding NFC Championship rematch

A day after losing the NFC Championship following an apparent missed call, New Orleans Saints fans want a rematch.
Los Angeles Rams' Nickell Robey-Coleman breaks up a pass intended for New Orleans Saints' Tommylee Lewis during the second half of the NFL football NFC championship game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (WTHR/AP) - A day after losing the NFC Championship following an apparent missed call, New Orleans Saints fans want a rematch.

More than 350,000 people have signed a petition urging the NFL to re-play the championship game against the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday.

Saints fan Terry Cassreino started the petition to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, requesting the rematch due to "refs' inability to properly officiate at the game."

"It's the only fair solution to this travesty of epic proportions," Cassreino wrote.

Here's what happened:

Tied 20-20, the Saints were moving into position to try a game-winning field goal in the final minutes of Sunday's game. But the non-call on a third down pass forced them to kick a field goal with enough time left on the clock for the Rams to move down the field and tie the game, then win it in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl.

Officials could have called pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman as he flattened Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis on an incomplete pass inside the Rams 10-yard line with 1:45 left in a tie game. The play occurred in close range of two officials along the sideline who never pulled out their flags.

NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron "couldn't believe" no penalty call was called on the play, Saints head coach Sean Payton said. Payton said he spoke with NFL executives about the play in a phone call shortly after the game ended.

"It's tough to get over it," Payton said. "My problem with it is, I just don't know, if we were playing pickup football in the backyard ... it was as obvious a call — and how two guys can look at that and arrive at their decision? It happened though."

As anger-infused, full-throated boos rained down relentlessly from the Superdome stands, replays on the stadium's expansive video screens clearly showed Robey-Coleman's high hit occurring before Drew Brees' pass toward the right sideline arrived at the spot where Lewis might have tried to make a play on the ball if he weren't being knocked to the turn.

"I bounced up looking for a flag and didn't see one, so I was kind of shocked about that," Lewis said. "I saw what everybody else saw.

"You all feel like it was obvious? There it is. Everybody knows it was obvious," Lewis added. "I don't know what else to say about it."

Even Robey-Coleman seemed surprised.

"Came to the sideline, looked at the football gods and was like, 'Thank you,'" Robey-Coleman said. "I got away with one tonight."

Rams coach Sean McVay, now headed to his first Super Bowl at age 32, was less inclined to scrutinize the call publicly.

"Certainly I'm not going to complain about the way it was officiated, but I thought it was a competitive play," McVay said. "I thought they let the guys compete within the framework of the rules and that's part of what NFL football is about."

Had a flag been thrown, the Saints would have run the clock down to the final seconds before setting up a short field goal try clinch the franchise's second NFC title, Payton said. Instead, the Saints had to try the kick with more than 1:40 left — enough time for the Rams to drive for a tying field goal. The game then went to overtime, when an interception by Rams safety John Johnson III set up Greg Zuerline's 57-yard game-winning field goal.

"We'll probably never get over it," Payton added.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who at age 40 is running out of chances to get to a Super Bowl, said it was "tough to swallow" the non-call.

"Plenty of times throughout the season, there's calls that go against you, go for you," Brees said. "But obviously in a situation like that where it seemed like everybody in the world saw it, it's tough."

Both Payton and Brees suggested that the way the call tarnished the result of a conference title game could stimulate discussion about widening replays to look at reviewing certain penalties committed at certain points of the game, as has happened in the NBA.

"There's just too much at stake," Payton said. "And listen, it's a hard job for those guys. It's happening fast. But I don't know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference.

"We all want to get it right, right? We've got plenty of technology to speed things up," Payton added. "Look, I'm on the competition committee. So, hopefully that provides a voice. I hope no other team has to lose a game the way we lost that one today, though. We were in position. ... We'd be on our knee for three plays and — it's disappointing."

Brees said he expects the NFL's replay rules to "constantly evolve as they try to make this game batter and try to make sure that it is as fair as possible."

"There's a lot happening out there and it happens very, very fast," Brees said. "Obviously, if they were replaying pass interference or if somebody got hit early before the ball got there, then I'm sure that would have been reviewed today — and it would been found that that was P.I.

"It's easy to sit here and criticize. I'm sure that because of this, as a result of this, I'm sure there will be a lot of talk about potentially reviewing penalties," Brees added. "Just like all the reviews that go up in the booth inside of two minutes. Maybe that's something that will happen in regards to certain penalties as well that are game-changing penalties, which obviously that was today."

Monday, Saints owner Gayle Benson said she pledges to aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies that will promote more "fairness and integrity."

Benson says it's clear the Saints were "unfairly deprived" of a trip to the Super Bowl by the inaction of game officials "charged with creating a fair and equitable playing field."

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)