What Just Happened?

Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman hits the Saints' Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrives. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman hits the Saints' Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrives. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

Demitri Stathakis, Assistant To The Adviser

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It’s now three days later, and the world is still in complete shock. The New Orleans Saints, who looked like the best team in the NFL- and possibly the favorites to win Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta, suffered one of the most devastating losses, if not the most, in NFL history.

After finishing the season 13-3, New Orleans found themselves atop the NFC, clinching the number 1 seed and the much-coveted home field advantage throughout the 2019 NFL playoffs. After coming off a first-round bye, and defeating a red-hot Philadelphia team led by Super Bowl 52 MVP quarterback Nick Foles in the divisional round, the Drew Brees-led Saints found themselves in their first NFC championship since 2010, where they infamously defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Brett Favre’s last NFL game, and went on to win Super Bowl 44.

Let me preface this by saying that the Los Angeles Rams are no joke. Sean McVay has emerged as one of the best coaches the league has seen in a very long time, and has successfully made every team hunt for “The next Sean McVay”. His offensive innovation and extensive knowledge of the game, (paired with his flawless photographic memory of course) have led the Rams to a truly special season. Jared Goff is a spectacular systematic quarterback. His success in the Sean Mcvay era (lest we not forget that terrifying Jeff Fisher era) has been incredible, and in only his third season, has skyrocketed to new levels that many believed impossible. This, paired with the spectacular offensive line, ranked 6th overall, and the new -found rushing attack of both Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson AND their depth at the wide receiver position have made them nearly unstoppable. But, like most great teams, they have their kryptonite.

In the case of the Los Angeles Rams, that kryptonite had shown itself in the form of Sean Payton’s New Orleans Saints. In their week 9 matchup, the Saints bested the Rams 45-35 in a game where Drew Brees tossed in 4 TD passes to 0 interceptions, and Alvin Kamara rushed for 2 scores, proving to most why they should be valued as the best team in the league.

The Saints followed this success all the way to the NFC championship, where once again, the Rams stood in their way. Fast forward to the fourth quarter of that game, where the Saints found themselves on the Ram’s 13-yard line in a tied 20-20 game with only 1:49 remaining. On a big 3rd and 10, Brees dropped back and threw to Tommylee Lewis. This is where one team’s legacy was made, and the other’s was absolutely crushed.

“I bounced up looking for a flag and didn’t see one,” Lewis expressed postgame. “I was kind of shocked by that.”

Lewis was absolutely cracked by defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman, on a hit much before the ball ever reached the receiver. This could have been called multiple things. Not only was it a blatant pass interference, it was also a very flagrant helmet-to-helmet hit. Bill Vinovich’s officiating crew, (who had 2 refs right in front of the play) called nothing. No flag. Nada. This would have brought up a first down, in a situation where the Rams only had one timeout remaining. The Saints would have 100 percent ran down the clock and kicked the game-winning field goal to book their trip to Atlanta. Instead, we were left with the most devastating no-call that absolutely cost the Saints another chance at a Super Bowl championship.

The criticism followed immediately following a heart-breaking overtime loss for the Saints. According to Sean Payton, official Al Riveron even admitted the mistake to him during the game.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Payton said. “They blew the call. It should have never not been a call. They said not only was it interference, it was helmet to helmet.”

Even though we have seen many blown calls over the years, this one left football fans (whether they supported New Orleans or not) in shock. It made many come to the realization that there is a serious officiating problem, and one that has persisted for years. The NFL’s way of combatting this is ridiculous. If the coaches criticize the referees, they get fined, as we saw happen previously to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, or then-coach of the New York Jets Todd Bowles. If the fans spoke out, then they would implement new rules. This led to the new helmet rule, which outlawed the lowering of the head during a tackle, which was an extremely questionable decision in which it seemed nobody knew how to legally hit anymore, and a rule which the refs didn’t even know how to enforce. We also saw the roughing the passer rules changed, which stumped everyone even more than the helmet rule. The NFL, in trying to prevent further issues, seemingly made the game harder to not only play, but to watch as well.

There is no reason the New Orleans Saints should not be battling the Patriots in Super Bowl 53. Give credit where credit is due to a spectacular Rams team who battled back to win the game off of an amazing 57-yard kick by Greg Zuerlein, but I just don’t see a world where Drew Brees loses the NFC championship game in a tie situation, on the opposing team’s 13-yard line, with under two minutes remaining. Maybe this devastating loss will serve as a wake-up call to the league, and we will get much needed rule changes, or maybe, we will just have to wait for another ridiculous way for New Orleans to lose a playoff game.