By: Max Marinelli ’22, Sports Reporter
This year’s NFC and AFC Championships have many fans, players, and coaches grasping at straws when it comes to knowing what the heck is and isn’t a penalty anymore. Before I start this article, I’d like to disclose that I am not biased against any of these teams, except maybe the Patriots, yet that’s not the point of this article. I believe the wrong team won both of these games on Sunday, Jan. 20.
Kickoff for the NFC Championship was at 3:30pm that day, which was the first of the two games. The Saints jumped ahead to an early lead, coasting into the fourth quarter, until the Rams tied the game 23-23 on a clutch 48-yard field goal, made by Greg Zuerlein. Also, Johnny Hecker had yet another beautiful fake-punt conversion this game, further cementing why he is undoubtedly the best punter in the league. However, the controversy all started just a minute or so before this. Drew Brees was leading what seemed to be shaping up for yet another impressive fourth-quarter pull-ahead touchdown. Keep in mind that if he scored, the Saints would’ve, more than likely, stopped the Rams from scoring a touchdown, therefore winning the game. The game-tying field goal at the end of regulation was only possible thanks to a terrible “no-call” on what was clearly pass interference and helmet to helmet contact by Rams’ defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman. The game would end up going into overtime, where the Rams would force a turnover, and Greg Zuerlein would blast a beautiful 57-yarder, that could’ve been good from 65, for the win. The terrible call that set up Zuerlein for his amazing game should not overshadow it.
Back to what is being called the “most horrendous no-call in football history.” The Saints were on third-and-10 from the Rams’ 13-yard line. The game clock was at 1:48. A first down and then touchdown, or even just a touchdown, had a 99% chance of sealing the game. Drew Brees threw an out route to Tommylee Lewis, who, before the ball even reached him, was decked by Robey Coleman of the Rams. This was not just a normal pass interference, but also helmet-to-helmet contact on a defenseless receiver, yet neither instances were called, and, although most people were immediately outraged by the effect on the game, the NFL should be worried that they didn’t throw a flag for a personal foul regarding player safety. Nevertheless, the ball had no chance of being caught, and the Saints were forced to kick a field goal, as it was fourth-and-10. This opened up a window for the Rams to win the game, as I mentioned earlier in this article.
The outcome of this game already had a half-million signatures on a petition for a rematch of the game on just the following day. I seriously do not know if I have ever seen a post-game interview during which a coach was asked about a loss and the call was so bad and so crucial that he blamed the loss on a blown call. That is not a shot toward Saints’ coach Sean Payton in any way. I respect him a lot, and he is usually very collected, but even he couldn’t look past the call. In fact, he seemed to be in tears after the loss.
Many players have already released tweets complaining to the NFL about the call, and not just Saints players. That is when you know it is really bad. The Texan’s Star Defensive End J.J. Watt released a tweet pleading, “There needs to be some form of accountability. NEEDS to be.” Nickell Robey-Coleman himself was shown the replay of his hit on Tommylee Lewis for the first time and promptly responded. "Oh, h*ll yeah," he admitted, "That was PI." It is still currently unknown what the NFL plans to do in response to what they admitted was a blown call, if they even plan to reconcile it at all.
Point being, the word “penalty” better have a stricter definition attached to it soon, or I predict we’ll find ourselves in more of these sticky situations.