By JOSEPH QUESADA
With just a few days until kickoff for Superbowl LIII, the Los Angeles Rams breathed sighs of relief after coming off an extremely close and controversial game against the New Orleans Saints.
The NFC championship in New Orleans, Louisiana on Jan. 20 featured the top two teams in the NFC, battling for their spot in the Super Bowl. This game was long anticipated, and many expected it to be an interesting, nail-biting matchup. The Saints and the Rams had dominated the regular season and entered the postseason as the two most feared teams in the NFC, winning their divisional playoff games and advancing to the conference championship. Both teams possesed a top calibre offense and an extremely capable defense, which made this matchup extremely close with no clear indication of who the better team was. With home field advantage, the Saints were favoured to win in what many analytical experts expected to be the best playoff game of the season.
In the opening quarter of the game, the Saints jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead, executing extreme offensive precision and a strong defensive effort. The Rams showed up in the 2nd quarter, putting up 10 points and cutting their deficit to three points just before the end of the half. The third quarter was an even matchup with both teams scoring a touchdown to increase the score to 20-17 going into the 4th. The 4th quarter was a defensive affair as neither team was able to score a touchdown on any possession of the ball. After scoring a field goal, the Rams were set to give the ball to New Orleans with a 20-20 tie score and five minutes left on the clock. The Saints marched the ball down the field on a long drive, which put them in position to score and end the game with a win. On a third down play with a little less than 2 minutes remaining, quarterback Drew Brees threw a pass towards the sideline for wide receiver Tommy Lee Lewis. Before Lewis even had a chance to do what is called “making a play on the ball” (reaching out to recept the pass), defensive back Nickell Roby-Coleman flew in, delivering an extremely illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on Lewis, which was grounds for a pass interference call from the nearby official. Instead of throwing a flag and putting the Saints in a position to win the game, the referees abstained from making the call, forcing the Saints to end their potential game winning drive with just three points and leaving enough time on the clock for the Rams to send the game into overtime. While it is not for sure, it is almost certain that the Saints could have closed out the game if the call had been made by running out the clock and scoring a last second field goal or touchdown. Instead, the Rams were able to kick a field goal and send the game into overtime, capitalizing on their opportunity and sending themselves to the Superbowl with a 23-20 win. This call, or non-call, was a game changing factor that served to aid the visiting Rams en route to their spot in Super Bowl LIII.
Almost immediately after the game, Saints head coach Sean Payton received a call from league officials apologizing for the missed call and stating that the referees were in the wrong. Coach Payton cited that there was “never a more obvious call’’ and issued his opinion that the Saints were unfairly robbed of their win and spot in Super Bowl LIII. Players, coaches, fans and even the team owner took to social media to express their frustrations and voice their concerns surrounding league policy on penalties and game altering calls. Saints owner Gayle Benson stated, “I have been in touch with the NFL regarding yesterday’s events and will aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies to ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again.” Players have also outwardly expressed their concerns and even demanded that a rematch be played.
At the end of the day the Rams still won and will have the chance to fight for another win against the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. The NFL has hundreds of missed penalties and bad calls each season, but few have ever caused such outrage. This incident will not go unnoticed by the NFL, as policies and rule changes will surely be made over the offseason to ensure that no organization in the NFL will ever be faced with such a call again. The Saints will attempt to make another run at the Super Bowl this next coming season, but, for now, fans, players and coaches will have to wait and see what the league does to redeem itself after this episode.