NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that “whenever officiating is part of any kind of discussion post-game, it’s never a good outcome for us.”
Goodell, addressing the fourth-quarter no-call in the NFC Championship Game that dearly cost the New Orleans Saints in a 26-23, overtime loss to the Rams, gave his first public statements on the controversy that occurred in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 20.
“(NFL senior vice president of officiating) Al (Riveron) told (Payton) that that’s a play we want to have called,” Goodell said.
Partial fuel for the controversy was the fact that the league publicly did not address the situation in the immediate, or near-immediate, aftermath of the game.
Wednesday marked the 10-day mark. Speaking in Atlanta, site of Super Bowl LIII, Goodell said the factors contributing to the non-call with 1:49 left – Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman interfered with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis before Drew Brees’ pass arrived, as well as committed helmet-to-helmet contact – mainly were attributable to human error.
“We also know our officials are human, we also know that they’re officiating a game that moves very quickly and have to make snap decisions under difficult circumstances,” he said. “And they’re not going to get it every time. As I say, they’re human.”
Goodell said that further complicating the issue was the fact that using instant replay would have been impossible because no penalty flag was thrown on the play.
“As far as where we can go, we will look again at instant replay,” he said. “There had been a variety of proposals over the last 15, 20 years of, Should replay be expanded?
“It does not cover judgment calls. This was a judgment call. The other complication is, it was a no-call. Our coaches and clubs have been very resistant, and there has not been support to date, about having a replay official or somebody in New York throw a flag when there’s no flag.
“They have not voted for that in the past. It doesn’t mean that we won’t. It’s something that we’re going to put to the Competition Committee, see if there’s an answer to that. But the reality is that’s been at least an opposition, philosophically, for many clubs.”
Goodell said that he believes the Competition Committee, of which Saints Coach Sean Payton is a member, will consider adding penalties to the list of reviewable plays
“Our rules do evolve. We have made changes to our rules every year. We try to get better, we try to learn,” Goodell said. “And I think that has been very effective. I think the game has never been healthier. I don’t think the game has ever been officiated at this level. It’s extraordinary.
“I think the committee will definitely consider this. Always, what happens in the Competition Committee is not just considering the solutions, but what are the unintended consequences to that solution. That’s part of this issue of not wanting a replay official or an official back in New York throwing flag on a no-call.
“If that happens, you could have multiple fouls on a play that people are looking at. Now, there are solutions for this. (But) that’s what the committee has to focus in on: What are the solutions, what are the unintended consequences? And come up with something that we think can keep the competitive nature of our game, but also improve officiating.”
The commissioner said he understood the frustration of the fans. He said that he, NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron and NFL head of football operations Troy Vincent all spoke to Payton, and that he spoke to Saints owner Gayle Benson.
“We understand the frustration that they feel right now,” he said.
“We have worked very hard to bring technology in to try to make sure we can do whatever’s possible to address those issues. But technology’s not going to solve all those issues. The game is not officiated by robots, it’s not going to be. But we have to continue to go down that path.
“Go back specifically on (Jan. 20), Coach Payton spoke to Al Riveron immediately after the game. Al told him that that’s a play we want to have called. Al has spoken to him, Troy Vincent, the head of football operations, has spoken to him. I’ve spoken to Mrs. Benson. Coach has also spoken to the Competition Committee, Rich McKay, the chairman. So there’s been a great deal of communication, making sure that they understand that.”