Once again, my beloved and helpless New Orleans Saints will not be going to the Super Bowl, this time after being bested in the NFC championship game by a fickle trickster god first and foremost, and then by the Los Angeles Rams. The overtime 26-23 loss felt painfully ordinary and supernatural all at once. Let’s start with Greg Zuerlein’s 48-yard, game-tying field goal, which went right and then swerved good, a triumph of physics by any measure. The two teams were, after all, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where there is no wind, and where it’s also too loud to see. And yes, that the Saints’ loss was thanks to almost supernatural events is what helps me sleep at night these days, considering what happened late in the fourth quarter.
The no-call was bullshit; some would venture that it was the most bullshit that has ever bullshitted, in the history of bullshit. There’s not much to gain in pretending that it wasn’t. You’re welcome to read this as karmic retribution for Bountygate if you’d like to fight, but I feel as though the debt, if there was one, has been paid several times over by now. It was a blown call, and that is indifferent to context. The NFL’s head of officiating has copped to it. Rams DB Nickell Robey-Coleman copped to it. The NFL has begun to consider making pass-interference calls reviewable. At the time of this writing, this horribly offensive (and kind of hilarious) picture is still up on Todd Gurley’s Instagram feed.
If you somehow missed the play in question: With the game tied at 20 in the fourth quarter, Drew Brees was facing a third-and-10. He threw to Tommylee Lewis, and Robey-Coleman blew Lewis up with what looked very much like a helmet-to-helmet hit, well before the arrival of the ball. There was no flag. People, including myself, began foaming at the mouth. Sean Payton called it a “Super Bowl [no] call.” In effect, it was: There’s a version of reality in which Lewis makes the catch, the Saints go on to win the Super Bowl in Atlanta, and Falcons fans are thereby prohibited from looking any Saints fan in the eye for the next calendar year.
It’s nice to imagine life on that timeline. But there’s also not a whole lot to gain in dwelling there for too long, or on petitions, or lawsuits, or billboards, where Saints fans’ collective misery is manifesting itself. If you relitigate isolated moments from the game, little alternate realities begin to branch off everywhere. For instance: the Rams’ penultimate drive in regulation. It was second-and-goal. Jared Goff rolled out of the pocket to the left and ambled toward the goal line, but along the way, Jermon Bushrod got a piece of his face mask. What if the Rams had gotten the penalty, and not a 24-yard field goal? What if, instead of dinking-and-dunking to start the second half, the Rams had stuck to deeper passes, as they did to bring themselves within a possession to close out the first? While we’re at it, Robey-Coleman also skated on another PI call: On a third-and-7 to start the fourth quarter, he nearly picked Brees off, but might not have been so close if he wouldn’t have had a handful of Ted Ginn Jr.’s shoulder pads. The Rams might have already had the game in hand by the time Robey-Coleman trespassed again.
Though I feel that the Rams cornerback accosted me personally, you speed until you get a ticket. Forcing the referee into making a decision is part of the game, just like missed opportunities, bitter disappointments, and eternal blood feuds. None of this makes the slightest bit of sense if you think about it for too long. There’s nothing logical, at least to my mind, about not throwing a flag in that situation, just like there’s nothing logical about someone else’s ability to catch a ball or make a tackle affecting my entire week. Or month. Year, whatever.
I think what I’m trying to get at is Saints fans might be better served thinking about extending Mark Ingram, getting the most out of having both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas for another two years while they’re on affordable contracts, and reckoning with what life would look like without Drew Brees, since that future isn’t a long ways off. Therein lies the real disappointment—this team has looked good enough, likely, for two years in a row. And there’s not much wiggle room to improve on it. In short: We won’t be getting too many more swings at this.
The silver lining is that we’ll probably get another one next season. Brees is at least “pretty positive” he’ll be back, and maybe that trickster god will take up an interest in subtler ironies by then. As for this year’s Super Bowl? Go nobody.