The biggest missed call in New Orleans Saints franchise history cost the Saints a berth in Super Bowl LIII.
There isn’t much debating that.
An obvious defensive pass interference penalty – on a pass attempt from Drew Brees to receiver Tommylee Lewis with 1:49 left – is the reason today that the Saints’ season is over and the Los Angeles Rams are heading to Atlanta to play for the NFL title.
The Saints would’ve been first-and-goal from inside the 10-yard line with 1:45 left, with the Rams down to one timeout, which means New Orleans essentially could’ve drained the clock before kicking a game-winning, chip-shot field goal.
Instead, the non-call, exchanged field goals to finish regulation, a Saints interception in overtime and a Rams field goal resulted in a 26-23, season-ending loss for New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game.
It’ll sting, for awhile. But there were several memorable performances submitted by the Saints that shouldn’t be overlooked.
OFFENSE: It’s hard to put a value on what running back Alvin Kamara provides for New Orleans offensively. On Sunday, it was a game-high 11 catches (on 13 targets) for 96 yards. There only was one big gain, a 21-yard reception in the first half, but the 8- and 9-yarders were instrumental in helping the Saints move the chains and get into scoring position. Kamara caught six passes on third down, and half of them produced first downs. What the Rams were able to do in terms of keeping him under wraps in the running game (eight carries for 15 yards), they couldn’t do in open space. Kamara was even better this season than he was in 2017, when he was NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
DEFENSE: There wasn’t a more impactful offseason pickup for the Saints than linebacker Demario Davis, and again he showed why that was true in the NFC championship. Davis totaled 14 tackles (a game high), with a tackle for loss, an interception and a pass defensed. If it seemed like he was everywhere, that’s because he likely was. He had a two-play sequence that was as memorable as any back-to-back plays he made this season on the Rams’ first offensive possession. On second-and-3 from the Los Angeles 17-yard line, Davis tackled Todd Gurley for a 4-yard loss. And on third-and-7, Jared Goff’s short pass to Gurley went through Gurley’s hands and directly to Davis, who was on the scene to make a tackle but, instead, wound up with the interception. That set up a Saints field goal and helped New Orleans take a 6-0 lead.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The shame is that Wil Lutz’s final chip-shot field goal – from 31 yards out – sailed through the uprights with 1:41 left in the fourth quarter, instead of with less than 10 seconds. Lutz made all three field-goal attempts (from 37, 29 and 31 yards) and again was effective on his six kickoffs (five for touchbacks, one returned 17 yards). As usual, punter Thomas Morstead was outstanding (42.8-yard average, only one return attempted for no yards, and two punts inside the 20), and Justin Hardee was fantastic in coverage. But Lutz was as pure as he had been all season, and hopes to be in future seasons.