Taking action nearly a week after a controversial play in last weekend’s NFC Championship Game, the NFL on Friday fined Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman more than $26,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on New Orleans Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis.
The fine was interpreted as an admission by the NFL that referees on the field at the Superdome in New Orleans should have called a penalty on the play. Had they done so, New Orleans would have been in a better position to try to score a touchdown late in the game and clinch a trip to next week’s Super Bowl.
Instead, Los Angeles was able to get the ball back, tie the game with a field goal and then win in overtime, 26-23, with another field goal. The Rams will play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in Atlanta.
On Friday night, Robey-Coleman confirmed that he’d been fined by the league and said he intended to pay the fine with no objections, the Associated Press reported.
“It's all good, and I'm moving on,” Robey-Coleman told the AP. “That's how the league feels. That's their call.”
“It's all good, and I'm moving on. That's how the league feels. That's their call.”
— Nickell Robey-Coleman, Los Angeles Rams defensive back
The NFL Network reported that the precise amount of the fine was $26,739 – though how that figure was determined was unclear.
According to the AP, Robey-Coleman wouldn't say whether he agreed with the league's decision to fine him, but he acknowledged after the game that he could have easily been penalized for pass interference.
"It's the league's call, the ref's call," Robey-Coleman said. "I have nothing to do with that (decision). I made a football play. The ref made his call, and there's nothing else that I could do about it. That's their call, and that's something that you just have to live with as a football team, and we're going to the Super Bowl, so we just have to move on.”
But whether the Saints – and their fans – are ready to move on is another matter.
The no-call has sparked outrage in New Orleans, where there are calls for a Super Bowl boycott. In addition, at least two lawsuits have been filed over the NFL’s officiating.
Some fans want the Saints-Rams game to be replayed, while others want full refunds for the amount they paid for tickets to the game. It wasn’t known if or how the NFL planned to address those requests.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., suggested on Twitter this week that the NFL could help assuage New Orleans fans by allowing the city to host an upcoming Super Bowl. (The site of each year’s game is determined in advance, regardless of which teams participate.)
“We all know the Saints were robbed of their chance to play in #SuperBowlLIII by the worst no-call ever,” Scalise wrote. “The NFL can make it right by awarding NOLA the next available Super Bowl. What’s more fair than awarding this year’s best team (& greatest host city!) with the next Super Bowl?”
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., took a different tack, suggesting that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell be invited to testify before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee regarding the league's handling of the play.
The Rams, meanwhile, have been diplomatic about their fortunate break, acknowledging the sketchy nature of Robey-Coleman's hit while also gently pointing out that one play doesn't decide any game.
"All we do as coaches, if a (penalty) is called, we usually get mad if it's against us," Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "If a (penalty) is not called, we thought they were holding Aaron Donald or something. But if they don't call it, you go to the next play. That's the way the game has been played for a long time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.