NFC Championship Recap - The refs blew it...but so did the Saints

Profile Picture: D.S. Williamson

D.S. Williamson

January 21st, 2019

What a game! In a heavyweight bout that had it all, the Los Angeles Rams beat the New Orleans Saints 26-23 to make it to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in franchise history. There’s a lot that happened in a game that no one will forget anytime soon. Let’s dive deep into The Controversy, The Reason, What’s Next for the Saints, and the Super Bowl 53 Rams look ahead in my NFC Championship recap.

The Controversy: Worst No-Call Ever

Some are calling it the most blatant no-call on pass interference in history. You already know what happened, but let’s go through the particulars anyhow for the purpose of an NFC Championship recap. With 1:45 left on the clock, the Saints had a 3rd-and-10 on the Rams’ 13-yard line. Drew Brees went back to pass. He threw it towards Tommylee Lewis who was streaming down the sideline. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman didn’t play the ball and was caught in zone coverage. Instead, he took a bee line right to Lewis’ neck and head area. As the ball sailed pass the two, Robey-Coleman provided an MMA shoulder block that sent Lewis to the ground.

Obvious pass interference? Absolutely. Saints fans have every reason to be mad. But is it the reason the Saints lost the game? Not really. Sean Payton’s argument is that if the ref had thrown the flag, New Orleans would have had time to run out the clock, kick a field goal, and win the game.

It’s a valid argument, but I’m not buying it. Before telling you why, let me admit something - I’m a massive Saints fan. I have been for over 30 years. I’ve been there during the lean years. Heck, we baptized my kid the morning before the Super Bowl win.

Yep. Massive fan. Will be after this as well, but I’ve got some news for my fellow Saints brethren…New Orleans lost the chance to go to the Super Bowl on the first play of that drive. Less than two minutes stood on the clock after Brees completed the 43-yard pass to Ted Ginn. The Rams only had a couple of time outs.

At that point, you run the football. You run the football twice. Maybe, you run the football three times. Maybe, if you don’t run the football a third time, you throw the football over the middle and keep it in bounds.

Sean’s play-calling on the final Saints’ drive was atrocious. Even on the non-call, Brees was throwing to the sidelines as if he expected Lewis to jump out of bounds. Unbelievable.

We have a habit of spotlighting a single play within a game, and it's very true that "one play" can make or break a game. But there was a series of events that led to that moment. New Orleans should not have been in that situation to begin with, and people will blame the no-call because it's much more visceral. I'm not letting Payton off the hook.

The Reason: Rams Produced Pressure

New Orleans lost the chance to go to the Super Bowl because the Los Angeles Rams' devastating front four pressured Brees all day. They were in his face on almost every single pass play in the second half. Even on the 43-yard Tedd Ginn catch, they changed the way Brees wanted to throw the football. Ginn made a great play. But, it’s not like the Saints’ quarterback showed the form that’s led to all those passing records.

That’s all Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers. Stats tell us nothing because the Rams only sacked Brees twice for 7 yards. Make no mistake, though, the Rams’ fearsome three made New Orleans’ offensive line look like a bunch of kids in the second half.

Let’s not forget that the Saints got the ball first in overtime. A touchdown would have ended it. Michael Brockers got a hand in Brees’ face causing him to throw the errant heave that John Johnson III intercepted while on his back. Michael Thomas was never able to locate the football and made a comically bad effort to try and defend the pass.

Suh, Donald, and Brockers won the game for the Los Angeles Rams. That’s the real reason the Saints aren’t playing on February 3rd while the Rams are. New Orleans’ offensive line just couldn’t hold up against the best defensive front 3 in football. Remember that this NFC Championship recap is being written by a Saints fan. I don't want to be writing these things, but I have to give credit where it's due.

What’s Next For the Saints?

Sean Payton doesn’t believe the Saints will ever get over the pass interference non-call. That’s ludicrous. It helps millionaires to get over things like bad calls (or bad non-calls) in football after peeking at their bank accounts. New Orleans’ players are no different than any one else. Disappointment crashes into all of us. Let’s put it into perspective. It’s only football, an underpaid referee made a non-call, everyone involved will get over it.

Saturday’s game wasn’t the 1994 World Cup match between Colombia and the United States. The NFL plays these games every year. The Saints, their fans, the city that rose after Hurricane Katrina will get over it.

More importantly as a Saints fan, I want to know how they’ll improve. I’ve got a couple of ideas:

Bolster the offensive line – The top six highest-paid players hitting free agency are Ryan Kalil, Mike Iupati, Andy Levitre, Jared Veldheer, Rodger Saffold, and Bobby Massie. All six are over 30 years old. The Saints should go for a younger offensive lineman like 28-year-old Seattle guard D.J. Fluker or 26-year-old Cincinnati left tackle Jake Fisher. If the New Orleans could somehow sign Dallas guard Marcus Martin, that would be great. The reason to bolster the offensive line is because Drew Brees will be a year older and the Saints must return to bulldozing opponents in the run game. It's the strategy they employed for much of the season and Brees, Kamara and Ingram need support up-front.

Unless he leaves, have Pete Carmichael call plays again– This makes a ton of sense after watching how Sean Payton botched the entire second half. Too many bad play calls to count in that second half. Carmichael knows what he’s doing. If he stays, he should be calling plays while Sean manages. Payton seemed to have trouble getting the plays in on time a few instances on Sunday as well. He might want to take a step back, especially, because 2019 could be Drew Brees’ last season.

Super Bowl 53: Rams Look Ahead

While it's impossible to write an NFC Championship recap without focusing on the Saints, the Rams still won the game. The defensive front faces a much taller task against the New England Patriots than it did versus the Saints offensive line. New England runs different schemes while Tom Brady’s got a different thing going on with Julian Edelman than Brees has with Michael Thomas.

Thomas is terrific, but he doesn’t run routes the same way Edelman does. Edelman’s routes rely on the dime back-cuts and forward cuts. Brady throws to Edelman as soon as he makes the cut. The pair are so good together that often the ball’s at Edelman’s hands right when the wide receiver moves.

Brees and Thomas don’t have that timing. No other quarterback and wide receiver have timing like that in the NFL.

So, even though the Rams have the best front-three in the league, and will pressure Brady, they might not be able to inflict enough stress on Brady. The theory’s already playing out because right after the Rams opened as a -1 favorite, Brady, Belichick and the Patriots dove to -2 favorites.

Right now, unless something changes, it’s hard to see the greatest franchise in NFL history not coming up with a plan to control, Donald, Brockers, and Suh and beat the Los Angeles Rams and win Super Bowl 53.