NEW ORLEANS — Nickell Robey-Coleman had been enthusiastically holding court for nearly a half hour.
The Los Angeles Rams cornerback was still in his game pants, explaining the controversial non-call after he contacted Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis with 1:45 to go in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game and the score tied 20-20.
But Robey-Coleman had not yet seen the replay.
After closely watching the sequence unfold on a reporter’s phone, he paused. Then his Cheshire grin melted into a laugh that doubled the sixth-year vet over.
“Ah, hell yeah, that was PI,” Robey-Coleman said in L.A.’s victorious locker room, co-signing what the rest of America already knew and what Sean Payton said the NFL had even admitted — he’d committed pass interference and gotten away with it.
“I did my part,” Robey-Coleman said with a smile. “Referee made the call. We respect it.”
So did his team.
“I thought it was a bang bang type play,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. “The one thing I respect about the refs today is they let the guys compete and they let the guys play. Nickell Robey made a nice play.
“I thought it was a competitive type play, and certainly I’m not going to complain about the way it was officiated. … I thought they let the guys compete within the framework of the rules, and that’s part of what NFL football is about.”
But even after seeing the (non)-error of his ways, Robey-Coleman was unashamed, feeling he’d taken a calculated risk and won on a play where he felt the Rams were trying to fool his defense. And to hear Robey-Coleman tell it, he probably deserves some level of credit for a season-saving play.
Robey-Coleman’s assignment on the play was to cover Alvin Kamara in the slot, but he’d noticed the 5-7, 168-pound Lewis enter the New Orleans huddle and thought he was trying to hide among his larger teammates.
“Nobody saw him but me,” Robey-Coleman said of Lewis, whom he said was ducking down while trying to go unseen.
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So he made a decision unconsciously formed in Rams practices, ditched Kamara before the snap and sprinted across the formation toward Lewis, uncovered on the other side of the field.
“Pure instinct,” said Robey-Coleman. “McVay does that play to us every week with the quick speed break.”
“I just got there and whacked his ass,” he said after leveling Lewis, knowing he hadn’t even turned to look for the ball, which harmlessly hit the turf. Instead of first-and-10 near the Rams’ 5-yard line, New Orleans settled for a field goal instead of potentially getting the haymaker that could have put L.A. away.
Referee Bill Vinovich told a pool reporter after the game, “It was a judgment call by the covering official. I personally have not seen the play.”
Much like Robey-Coleman.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis