The two most dominant teams in the National Football Conference met in the Superdome on Sunday.
Sitting atop the NFC South, the New Orleans Saints hosted the Los Angeles Rams in “America’s Game of the Week.”
Not only did L.A. come to the game as the leaders of the NFC West, they were also the only undefeated team left in the league…”were” being the key word in that sentence.
The Rams had squeaked out wins in three of their last four games. They let a 17-point lead over the Broncos dwindle down to a 23-20 victory, and they had “come-from-behind” wins against the Seattle Seahawks (33-31) and the Green Bay Packers (27-29). Los Angeles beat the Packers on a field goal in the last two minutes.
After the Saints lost their first game of the season, they won their next six by an average of almost 10-points, recording only two games with close scores.
The first quarter in New Orleans was a microcosm of the game as a whole.
The Saints received kickoff and started from their own 25-yardline.
Quarterback Drew Brees wasted no time in moving his team across the field in 10-plays to score on an 11-yard rush. And the shootout began.
Los Angeles Q.B. Jared Goff broke it open on a 33-yard pass to tight end Tyler Higbee. Star running back Todd Gurley rushed the last 8-yards to tie the score, 7-7.
The Saints next drive opened with a 19-yard pickup through the air. They collected big gains on two passes (17-yards and 16-yards) and scored another touchdown.
Goff mowed 75-yards of lawn in a little over 2-minutes. He targeted wide receiver Brandon Cooks for a 48-yard reception that put the Rams inside the red zone and set up TD number two, 14-14.
The second Q saw the first gaffes of the game.
Brees handed the ball to Saints running back Mark Ingram, L.A. Linebacker Samson Ebukam dislodged it and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald recovered the rock at the 22-yardline.
But after two incomplete passes left them lacking, the Rams sent in Kicker Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein.
They lined up and the ball was snapped to the holder Johnny Hekker.
Johnny is also a kicker. And don’t get me started on “Hekker the Kicker.”
But on a designed trick-play, Hekker kept the ball and ran to his right, for the 1st down.
That is what actually happened…it’s not what was called.
Hekker was ruled short.
Head Coach Sean McVay tossed the challenge flag.
The ruling was upheld (despite a half-dozen camera angles supplying visual proof that Hekker had stretched out over the line) and New Orleans scored on the ensuing possession.
The Rams came up short and Zuerlein went wide right on a 51-yard FG attempt.
The Saints put up another TD; then intercepted Goff and scored again.
With 2-seconds remaining Zuerlein was good from 56-yards out, and the Rams ended the half trailing 17-35.
But L.A. rallied, held New Orleans scoreless in the third quarter, and put up points on a TD (18-yard reception by running back Malcolm Brown) and a FG (34-yards by “The Leg”).
The Rams carried that momentum into the final frame.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp took a pass on a 41-yard ride for a touchdown and McVay called for a 2-point conversion.
Goff threw along the 5-yardline to TE Gerald Everett. He took three-steps and dove across the goal line to tie the score, 35-35 with 9:48 left in the game.
Brees cooled during their next series, and had to settle for a field goal.
The Rams went three and out.
Brees hit WR Michael Thomas for longest reception of the day, 72-yard and a TD.
On their last possession, when it mattered most, Los Angeles turned the ball over on downs and gave New Orleans the victory, 35-45.
It left a hole…where a “win” should have gone.
God Bless and take your defeats with grace.
Mark Felicetti has been equally disgraceful in his victories as in his defeats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.