It is hard to describe the feeling in New Orleans that existed the evening of January 20, 2019. There was little to no interest in the AFC Championship between the Pats and the Chiefs because the Saints has just been screwed out of a trip to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII. This will be bad for the NFL.
After the heart-breaking loss to the Rams, Saints fans everywhere struggled with how that game turned out. Saints fans are used to losing games. It isn’t that. I fought the urge to say we were cheated. Cam Jordon tried to do the same thing – trying to focus on other opportunities that had been missed during the game.
There was a dropped catch in the back on the end zone that ended up leading to a field goal. There was the first and ten pass play that preceded “the missed call” where Drew Brees, our Hall of Fame football savior, threw the ball at the receivers feet for some inexplicable reason. Why did we pass the ball anyway? If we had just given it to Ingram or Kamara, or even Taysom Hill, the Rams would have been forced to use their last time out and the clock would have kept on ticking after that.
But, those are the things you see with 20/20 hindsight. Yep, the 4 point difference between the dropped pass and the field goal may have changed the ending also. However, that simply wasn’t the case. It didn’t happen that way. The Saints drove down to the red zone and, on third and ten, Drew Brees threw a pass to Tommylee Lewis. Nickell Robey-Coleman, the Rams’ DB recognized the situation for what it was. Lewis was open a few short feet from the goal line, Brees saw it, threw the ball, and Lewis was going to catch it and score a touchdown, making it much more difficult to send the game into overtime. Or, what is even more likely, Lewis would have been pushed out of bounds, having gained a first down, leaving the Saints in a game winning position. Robey-Coleman did what we have seen defensive backs do in that situation for years. It is better to take the penalty than to give up the score.
As Robey-Coleman admitted in post game interviews, he knew he was early when he hit Tommylee Lewis. He knew had hadn’t turned around to try to find the ball. He knew he hadn’t made any effort to make a play on the ball. He intended to interfere with Lewis’ ability to catch the ball. He said that he fully expected to see yellow flags flying. So did everyone else in the Superdome. So did everyone else watching television in New Orleans. So did everyone in Las Angeles. So did everyone everywhere except the guys in black and white stripes shirts on the field. Robey-Coleman said a ref told him the ball had been tipped. That’s the only way the pass interference would have been justified. It wouldn’t have justified the helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless receiver, but it would have justified the PI. Tipped balls are reviewable, right?
Anyway, we know how it turned out. Nobody threw a flag on an egregious foul. I don’t have any problem with letting the players play. That’s one of the justifications I have heard since Sunday. The refs had been letting the players play. Fine. This wasn’t one of those situations. It was a clear pass interference by one player on another. It wasn’t two players hand fighting down the field or jostling for position. Even worse, letting the players play doesn’t justify not calling the helmet-to-helmet contact when that has been a safety focus of the NFL all year long. There is a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers who did everything but put a pillow under the QB’s head on a sack that resulted in a roughing the passer call. There was a roughing the passer call in the Pats/Chiefs game where the defensive player hit Brady in the chest, missing the helmet all together. There is simply no justification for missing that call when Robey-Coleman hit Tommylee Lewis early, helmet to helmet.
The facts that there were other missed opportunities and questionable calls by Sean Payton during the game are irrelevant. There are always missed opportunities and questionable calls in every game. The situation that existed in that now infamous third and ten existed independently of any other missed opportunity or questionable call. The refs blew it bad. If the Saints get that call, it becomes first and ten. The Saints can run the clock down to a point where the ensuing field goal would have sealed the deal, cementing the Saints’ trip to Super Bowl LIII.
Now, Super Bowl LIII will be the Patriots versus Rams. I couldn’t be any less interested in that game. We are well aware that Brady is the GOAT. As much as I love Brees and appreciate everything he has done for Saints Football, the City of New Orleans, for ME, TB12 didn’t throw an interception to a defender lying on his back in overtime to lose the game. TB12 drove down the field and scored a touchdown, keeping Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs offense off the field. The Pats didn’t give up a single negative yardage play in the AFC Championship. Say what you want, that is hard to argue with.
Now, leading up to Super Bowl LIII, the media coverage is about the blown call in the Saints game and the good work done by the Patriots’ offensive line. BORRRRING! We won’t get to enjoy Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Taysom Hill, Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, and on and on and on. We also won’t get to enjoy Pat Mahomes and the future of the NFL. We will have a Super Bowl between a team that should have lost the NFC Championship and Belichick and Brady. I just don’t care and my gut says that there are plenty other people outside of Boston who don’t care either. I’m not saying the Patriots don’t deserve to be in the game. Clearly they do. I just don’t care who wins – like Brady needs another ring.
I know I am not a sports writer and this article is way outside of my normal writing topics. I am, however, a lifelong resident of New Orleans. And as a lifelong resident of New Orleans, I am a lifelong fan of the New Orleans Saints. That won’t change. Next season, I will be ready to yell “Who Dat!” with fellow Saints fans, whether they are from New Orleans or not. I will be ready to yell “Who Dat!” when Brees retires and Taysom Hill takes over.
I do think Super Bowl LIII is the worst case scenario for the NFL. Whether you like the Saints or not, there is simply no denying they should have beat the Rams in the NFC Championship. I guess the football fans who love offensive line play the most will be excited about the Patriots winning another one. I did like Todd Gurly’s Instagram post of him trading jerseys with the ref, but the refs won’t be rooting against Brady on February 3. My conclusion is f ’em. I doubt I will watch LIII. I certainly won’t forget about this no call that cost us a trip to the Super Bowl. Finally, I don’t blame anyone for feeling that way (except the NFL officiating crew from the 2019 NFC Championship game).
Thanks tor letting me vent. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.
Edit: I have seen a number of comments that the refs didn’t call a face mask on Goff at the 5, or there were other no calls throughout the game. I admit that. The difference is that we don’t know what impact, if any, calling that face mask would have had. We know with a great deal of certainty that had pass interference been called on the third and ten pass attempt to Tommylee Lewis, the Saints would have won the game.
UPDATE 2/4/19 – I was right. SB LIII was a dud. Anyone who thinks the game wouldn’t have been better with Saints v. Chiefs is delusional. Who dat!