Look: the officials didn’t make Drew Brees throw a horrific interception in overtime, and they didn’t make Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein nail a 57-yard game-winning field goal despite a low snap a few plays later. In fact, after a quarter and a half where the Saints jumped out to a 13-3 lead and the Rams seemed deeply confused on offense, the Rams were mostly the better team, and they were rewarded with a 26-23 win and a date in the Super Bowl with the winner of Patriots-Chiefs.
But the officials did miss two clear pass interference fouls on Rams nickel cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman in the fourth quarter. The first one came on the first play of the fourth quarter, on third-and-seven from the Rams’ 47.
That’s a bad non-call, but at least Robey-Coleman makes a play on the ball. All anyone in New Orleans will be talking about anyway is this play, on third down from the 12-yard line with 1:48 left and the score tied at 20.
That’s Robey-Coleman committing blatant and uncalled pass interference on Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis, which stopped the clock and held the Saints to a field goal with 1:45 remaining.
Of course, this is football—it’s contingent as hell and always unfair to reduce it to one play. Why did Sean Payton throw it on first down from the Rams’ 13 with only 1:58 left? The Rams only had two timeouts left and the subsequent incompletion saved them a full 40 seconds.
The call is spectacularly bad, though: it wasn’t just a missed pass interference. Robey-Coleman hit Lewis in the helmet and easily could have been called for leading with his head. Payton was right to say after the game that it was “as a obvious a call” as could possibly be missed; he certainly speaks for Saints fans when he says that “we’ll probably never get over it.” For his part, Robey-Coleman admitted that he committed the penalty intentionally to prevent a touchdown because he was beat. (ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry says that Robey-Coleman told her that officials told him the ball was tipped on the play.)
The Saints, hilariously, have now ended consecutive seasons with Super Bowl-caliber rosters with one of the worst missed tackles in NFL history and one of the worst non-calls in NFL history. Drew Brees said after the game that he’s not retiring, and I look forward to seeing how his team eats shit next year.