ATLANTA – After failing to publicly address one of the biggest officiating failures in the history of his tenure as NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell finally spoke Wednesday about the controversial no-call in the NFC championship game that arguably denied the New Orleans Saints a trip to Super Bowl LIII.
His response: These things happen and the NFL simply has to do better.
“We understand the frustration of the fans,” Goodell told media after making remarks about the upcoming Atlanta Super Bowl. “I’ve talked to coach [Sean] Payton, the team the players. We understand the frustration that they feel right now. We certainly want to address that.
“Whenever officiating is part of any kind of discussion postgame, it’s never a good outcome for us. We know that. Our clubs know that. Our officials know that. But 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. And they’re not going to get it right all the time.””
Goodell wasn’t specific on how the officiating problems would be addressed beyond explaining that mistakes were recognized and the league feels it has been as accountable as it can be without changing the outcome of a game or replaying it – which it won’t do. It also won’t make any guarantees about officiating or replay undergoing massive changes, once again echoing the oft-used “we don’t know about the unintended consequences of rule changes” defense. That said, Goodell allowed that there will be conversations about replay in the offseason.
“We will look again at instant replay,” Goodell said.
That’s unlikely to quell the unrelenting frustration and anger of Saints fans, but Goodell’s tone was largely expected after nearly 11 full days of public silence from the league office. This despite political and legal volleys toward the NFL, following the failure of an official to call a pass-interference penalty on Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman in the NFC title game. The play, which occurred late in the game and likely would have resulted in a key first down for the Saints, essentially denied New Orleans a chance to run down the clock and kick a game-winning field goal as time expired in regulation. New Orleans eventually lost in overtime to the Rams.
Asked why he waited so long to address the controversy publicly as fans in New Orleans boiled, Goodell not-so-subtly appeared to point the finger at the Saints’ Payton. After declining to say precisely what transpired between himself and Payton, Goodell noted that it was Payton who revealed in the immediate wake of the title game loss that Goodell and other league officials had already admitted the officiating error.
“We addressed this immediately after the game,” Goodell said. “We spoke to the coach. The coach announced the conversation and the fact that this play should have been called. We had several conversations with those clubs and other officials over the next several days. That’s our process. It’s what we always do with particular judgement calls.”
Since that moment, Payton has repeatedly outed the league for privately admitting the officiating error, while fans have been up in arms over the mistake, going as far as creating a rap video, a federal lawsuit against the league and even digging into NFL bylaws to see if the Rams’ win could be overturned. Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana went as far as using time on the Senate floor to address the no-call, giving a presentation to lawmakers in which he suggested the NFL owed answers to fans about the mistake.
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