Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was emphatic on Sunday that the offensive pass interference call nullifying his game-winning touchdown catch against San Francisco was a bad call.
A strong counter-argument on Monday came from a surprising source — teammate Corey White.
“It was clearly pass interference,” said White, a starting cornerback. “Don’t get me wrong, but it was unfortunate.”
White did not stop there, shaking his head when told Graham said he never pushed off 49ers defensive back Perrish Cox. Cox fell to the ground, allowing Graham to catch a 47-yard Hail Mary pass in the end zone with no time left.
“Oh, he (Graham’s) crazy,” White said. “It was definitely pass interference. Clearly. Clearly. (Cox) did some acting. He sold it pretty well, too. But (Graham) definitely pushed, (arms) extended. As much as I like to defend my own teammates, I don’t want to lie, either.”
White discounted the suggestion any defensive back would fall down on purpose with no contact, considering the ramifications if no flag flew.
“As a DB, you would never try to flop,” he said. “If a guy gets his hands on you, you fight through it because if you flop and they catch it, and they never call it, then it’s like, ‘Why did you do that?’ ”
Saints coach Sean Payton was more non-committal, pointing out officials were looking for pass interference more than they used to in that situation.
“There’s so many other plays, that was like the last thing on my mind when I got in here this morning was to look at that play,” he said. “Whether (Cox) went down on his own, it’s hard to say looking at it. I think the second hand out, just the extension, can give that illusion. But they’re calling it tighter and, hey, we’ve gotta be able to adjust.”
The verdict is in on how Michael Crabtree got 20 yards behind anyone in the Saints secondary before catching Colin Kaepernick’s 51-yard heave on fourth-and-10 near the end of regulation. Safety Kenny Vaccaro vacated his deep zone when Kaepernick scrambled to his right on the do-or-die play for the 49ers, who then kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime.
Vaccaro ran up to defend Vernon Davis on an intermediate route that was cornerback White’s responsibility. White let Crabtree run by him because he was not supposed to leave his underneath zone.
“We have to stay deeper,” Payton said. “That’s one of the challenges of playing defensive back. You’re covering for three-and-a-half or four seconds and we lose contain, now everything becomes problematic.”
Vaccaro said he did what anyone in his position would have done when a quarterback scrambled to one side of the field.
“If I could redo it, I probably would stay deeper, but I was rolling with the quarterback,” he said.
“Once he rolls, you’re supposed to roll. That’s the way everybody plays. I couldn’t have made the play regardless. He was on the far side. I just saw Vernon sitting there about 25 yards wide open, too, so I went to him.”
For the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, New Orleans rushed for more than 100 yards against San Francisco. Mark Ingram gained 120 alone on 27 carries — his third consecutive 100-yard game.
In their three previous meetings, the 49ers held the Saints to 37 yards on 14 carries in their 2011 playoff game, 59 yards on 21 carries in 2012 and 92 yards on 23 carries last season.
Offensive tackle Zach Strief liked the production but pointed out San Francisco was without starters Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Dan Skuta. He singled out Ingram’s effort while dealing with a shoulder injury.
“Mark is running awfully well and is running through an injury that for a running back kind of blows you mind that he is getting 30 times a game,” Strief said. “We’re fortunate to have him back there, and it’s important to have that balance. We did run the ball yesterday. They’re missing three All-Pro players, so we had to be able to run.”
By going 28 of 47 against San Francisco, Drew Brees fell back below Chad Pennington for first place on the NFL’s all-time completion percentage list. Brees dropped to .6603, while Pennington finished at .6604. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is lurking at .6597. Brees has thrown more passes than Pennington and Rodgers combined. … Asked if there was an update on the status of suspended wide receiver Joe Morgan, Payton said “we’ll let you know when there is.” … The Saints (4-5), who lead the NFC South, would be in last place by a game-and-a-half in the AFC North. New Orleans hosts AFC North member Cincinnati (5-3-1) on Sunday.