The replay will forever live in infamy. The NFL might even create a rule or two because of it. There’s no escaping the blown pass interference call everyone is talking about in the aftermath, but it’s not the real reason why the New Orleans Saints lost the NFC Championship Game to the Los Angeles Rams.
Let’s face it: The Saints have terrible postseason luck. They got bounced out of the NFL playoffs by the Minnesota Miracle last year, and now this? A phantom no-call late in the fourth quarter, at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, on a play when Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly made contact with Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis? It just doesn’t seem fair.
However, the Rams are on the way to Super Bowl LIII with a 26-23 overtime victory, thanks to the monster leg of kicker Greg Zuerlein and his 57-yard game-winning field goal, and perhaps the officials.
Pass interference is supposed to be a judgement call. On Sunday, the officials forgot the rule altogether. It’s an egregious error, one Saints coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees, and every player and Saints fan should be upset with, but there’s no going back. It’s still another tough loss, even if the NFL admitted for making a massive mistake.
“It’s frustrating. Just getting off the phone with the league office. They blew the call. And there were a lot of opportunities, but that call puts it first-and-10, we’re on our knee three plays, and it’s a game-changing call. That’s where it’s at. It’s disappointing. Credit to the Rams, they made enough plays, though. They won the game. The kicker made some big kicks, but for a call like that not to be made, man, it’s just hard to swallow… It was simple: They blew the call. It should never have not been a call. They said not only was it interference, it was helmet-to-helmet. They couldn’t believe it.”
— Saints head coach Sean Payton
So there you have it. The Saints are mad, rightfully so, and the NFL has admitted a colossal error for not calling the pass-interference penalty late in the fourth quarter. Still, it’s just not the real reason New Orleans will not be making the trip to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on February 3.
It’s hard to play the what-if scenario in sports because you can literally dissect any play throughout the game and have it go the other way. What if the pass interference call was made? What if Brees didn’t throw an interception in overtime after winning the coin toss? What if the Saints scored touchdowns instead of two Will Lutz field goals in the first quarter? What if Rams quarterback Jared Goff didn’t throw an interception that led to points early in the game?
There are so many scenarios, and everyone will be upset about the pass interference play for days, weeks, months, even years. Heck, even star wide receiver Michael Thomas was quick to pull out the NFL rulebook and cite the exact rule that commissioner Roger Goodell could overturn the call and replay or restart the game from a certain point.
However, there is still one question that needs an immediate answer:
WHY DID THE SAINTS NOT RUN THE BALL ON FIRST DOWN RIGHT AFTER THE TWO-MINUTE WARNING?!?!
Seriously, though. This is as ridiculous as the no-call itself.
After Drew Brees connected with Ted Ginn Jr. for a beautiful 43-yard play, the Rams were all but toast and with only two timeouts. The two-minute warning should have been the start to the Big Easy’s celebration. Instead, it turned into a huge nightmare.
Coming out of the television timeout, everyone had expected the Saints to run the ball with either running back Alvin Kamara or running back Mark Ingram. Perhaps that’s the reason for the decision, but New Orleans decided to run a quick slant to Thomas, who saw the ball fall to the turf. Only two seconds went off the clock and the Rams didn’t have to burn a timeout.
You never had to play a snap of football at any level to realize just how awful the decision was.
Running the ball on first down made the most sense. Sure, Los Angeles would have burned the timeout right away. Then, head coach Sean McVay would have needed to use the final timeout on second down. And had the Saints ran the ball again on third down, the pass interference play would never had happened and there would have been roughly one minute remaining.
Instead, Lutz connected on the 31-yard field goal with 1 minute, 47 seconds remaining and allowing the Rams to keep one timeout, which they desperately needed on the game-tying drive in regulation.
Say what you want about the blown and obvious pass interference call against Robey-Coleman. It was terrible, but Payton also deserves as much blame as the officials.
There is no reason to throw a pass on first down in that situation, and that foolish decision changed the course of the game and NFL history.