NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Saints coach Sean Payton had a full night and morning to reflect on and review how much of an effect officiating really had on New Orleans' narrow loss to Atlanta.
By Friday afternoon, it sounded like the coach had decided that his initial concerns were warranted, and that it's a problem the league should address.
"The officiating was extremely poor," Payton said in a conference call. "Inconsistent would be a great way to put it. I thought that had a lot to do with the way this game ended."
The way the game ended was costly for the Saints.
New Orleans (9-4) missed an opportunity to strengthen its hold on first place in the NFC South, which now has three teams within a game of one another; Carolina (8-4) sits in second place and Atlanta (8-5) in third. The Saints also lost several players to injury during Thursday night's 20-17 loss, but Payton seemed most concerned by the penalty flags that were thrown against his team -- or weren't thrown against the Falcons.
Payton said he "went through every one of `em -- and the ones that weren't called. Too many inconsistencies."
The Saints were penalized 11 times for 87 yards, and the Falcons gained nine first downs by penalty.
Payton would not address all of the calls he disagreed with, but he did single out a roughing-the-passer call on defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins against Matt Ryan. The penalty came at the end of a third-down incompletion, keeping alive a drive that ended with Atlanta's first touchdown.
"I know what that rule's in place for," Payton said, "but it wasn't in place for what happened with Sheldon."
The officiating "has been a problem all year and it's something that's going to have to be addressed from a leadership standpoint at the top in our league office.
"It's frustrating when you have a game, instead of it being decided on the field like it's supposed to, you have a crew make so many mistakes in one event."
After Matt Bryant's 52-yard goal gave Atlanta a 20-17 lead with 3:49 left, Drew Brees drove New Orleans into position for a tying field goal or winning touchdown.
But linebacker Deion Jones made a leaping interception of a Brees pass in the end zone with 1:25 left.
The Saints lost their last chance to get the ball back when an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Payton -- who had angrily rushed onto the field to communicate with an official -- gave the Falcons a first down that enabled them to run out the clock.
Payton said after the game that he was trying to call a timeout when one of the officials "asked me again."
"I said, `I've already called the timeout,'" Payton said. "I probably said it with a little more oomph or vigor than I was supposed to, but I had enough. I've got to be smarter than that."
Payton said Friday that he had not heard from the league office about any further sanctions. He said the process of reporting disputed calls to NFL headquarters is "a waste of energy."
The NFL automatically reviews any penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct toward officials to determine if any further disciplinary action is warranted.
Even the Saints' star on offense could have had a bigger game if not for the officiating, Payton said. Michael Thomas caught 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
"He made some big plays," Payton said. "He was held on two or three occasions. We have to get him more touches, but he was impressive."
Meanwhile, the Saints will be monitoring the health of half a dozen players injured during the game: running back Alvin Kamara (concussion), guard Senio Kelemete (concussion), wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (undisclosed), linebacker A.J. Klein (groin), defensive end Trey Hendrickson (ankle) and safety Kenny Vaccaro (groin).
The Saints have extra time heal up before their next game, at home Dec. 17 against the New York Jets. New Orleans hosts Atlanta in a rematch on Dec. 24.