The Los Angeles Rams are heading to the Super Bowl, but their route took a controversial turn at the end of Sunday’s NFC Championship game in New Orleans. The Rams won in overtime, 26-23, though Saints fans, players, and coaches (and, perhaps, actual saints) will point to a late no-call from the officials that changed the course of the contest.
The Saints were at the Rams’ 13-yard line and inside the two-minute warning when Drew Brees threw to receiver Tommylee Lewis near the sideline on third down. As the ball was in the air, Los Angeles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman charged into Lewis like he was a dopey Pamplona tourist. He wasn’t even looking at the ball. Pass interference calls can be tough to spot in the moment, but this was not one of them. The officials could have thrown a flag for any number of infractions—including a helmet-to-helmet hit—but they opted to swallow their whistles and ruled it an incomplete pass.
Had a call been made, the Saints—awarded an automatic first down—could have run the clock to the 15-second mark before kicking a go-ahead field goal. But the call wasn’t made, and there was 1:41 remaining when Wil Lutz kicked the ball through the uprights to put the Saints ahead 23-20. This allowed the Rams enough time to tie the game with a field goal of their own.
The overtime period was flush with important plays—a Drew Brees interception! An insane 57-yard game-winning kick from Greg Zuerlein!—but the refs’ non-call from the fourth quarter is what will be talked about all offseason.
According to Saints head coach Sean Payton, the non-call belongs to eternity now.
In case there were any doubts on whether or not it was pass interference, former NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino (who’s usually rather forgiving to active referees) tweeted that the Saints have a right to gripe.
Surely there are some people who thought the officials made the right call? What about the man who made the play, Nickell Robey-Coleman? Perhaps, in his mind, his game-saving intervention was timed to perfection and he is a hero? Or not.
It’s too late to change anything. The call has been made, the Rams’ NFC Championship T-shirts have been handed out, and New Orleans is headed out of the postseason in agonizing fashion for the second year in a row. The Saints have no one to blame but themselves … oh, and the referees. They can blame the refs big time.