No deliberation required to name the play that was the turning point for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in the NFC Championship, a 26-23 overtime loss to the Rams in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
On the official play-by-play sheet, it’s listed this way:
3-10-LA 13 (1:49) (Shotgun) D. Brees pass incomplete short right to T. Lewis.
The long version is the Saints, tied at 20-20 with the Rams, were facing third-and-10 at the Rams’ 13-yard line with 1:49 left when quarterback Drew Brees took the snap from shotgun formation, and threw incomplete for receiver Tommylee Lewis on the right sideline.
The longer version is that Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman tackled Lewis, and made helmet-to-helmet contact, well before the football arrived. Almost everyone inside the Superdome, including Robey-Coleman, expected a penalty.
Almost everyone inside the Superdome was wrong.
The call wasn’t made and the Saints settled for Wil Lutz’s 31-yard field goal with 1:41 left to take a 23-20 lead.
If the call had been made, the Saints would have had first-and-goal inside the 10-yard line. And given that the Rams only had one timeout remaining, New Orleans essentially could have run down the clock to 10 seconds or so before having Lutz attempt a field goal.
Instead, Los Angeles utilized the remaining 1:41 to work its way into field-goal range, where Greg Zuerlein kicked a 48-yard field goal to tie the score with 15 seconds left. From there, the Rams produced an interception in overtime, and Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard game-winner.