After wandering online through a few NFL fan sites this week, it’s become obvious that many football fans truly believe that the wrong two teams are playing in Super Bowl LIII next week.
The Big Game is being played on Sunday, February 3 at 5:30 pm EST and it features a battle of the playoff two-seeds, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.
Except both of those teams got to the biggest game of the season in ways that have the football world reeling.
What’s the problem with Patriots vs. Rams?
Forget the fact that both teams won their Conference Championship games in overtime, something that’s never happened in the history of the NFL playoffs, and forget that throughout both games there were some bad calls on both sides and a lot of player woulda-coulda-shoulda’s that might have changed the outcome of the game.
Those are just part of football and only sore losers blame their fate on such things.
No, the debate over these two Super Bowl teams stems from two very specific, seemingly unfair happenings: one blatant, last-minute no-call and a coin flip.
Blatant No-Call: why many NFL fans think it should be the Saints, not the Rams in Super Bowl LIII
With 1:49 left to play in the NFL Conference Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams, the score was tied at 20, the Saints were on the Rams’ twelve-yard line, it was third and ten and quarterback Drew Brees threw a 10-yard pass to his receiver Tommylee Lewis.
But before the ball ever got to Lewis, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, who came flying across the field, slammed into Lewis helmet-to-helmet and then pushes him to the ground, an obvious pass interference and a personal foul for the helmet-to-helmet.
Only no penalty flag was thrown.
How does that penalty not get called?
That’s the million dollar question – why did the referees not make the call that everybody who was watching that game saw so clearly, even in slo-mo and from every conceivable angle.
Robey-Coleman even admitted that he knew he had committed a penalty but did so to prevent the easy touchdown that Lewis could have scored had the catch been made.
One theory is that the ball got tipped at the line of scrimmage, so that negates the pass interference call, but that still doesn’t explain why the helmet-to-helmet penalty was missed.
Another theory is that the line judge was at an angle where he couldn’t see either of the penalties, but if that’s true, then another referee (or the home office in NY) needs to step in and help him make the correct call.
How does that no-call cost the Saints the game?
It comes down to basic football strategy.
Either penalty would have resulted in fifteen yards and an automatic first down, and by that time the clock had ticked down to 1:45.
Then all Brees would have had to do is take a knee three times and let the clock wind down to less than five seconds and then have their place kicker Wil Lutz, who makes about 98% of his attempts from that distance, kick the game winning field goal.
By not calling those penalties, the referees took that win from the Saints.
Couldn’t the Saints have still won the game?
Of course, and that’s the other side of the argument.
Plenty of NFL talking heads made that same point – you can’t blame a loss on one play, one player, or the referees.
Maybe New Orleans lost the game because Brees threw an interception in overtime and then the Saints’ defense allowed the Rams to march down the field and put their place kicker Greg Zuerlein in a position to make the game winning field goal.
But the fact remains that had the correct call been made, there would have been no overtime because the Saints would have already won the game and gone to the Super Bowl.
How are fans reacting to the missed no-call?
Needless to say, Saints fans ain’t happy, and they’re spending time and money to let the world know.
Some fans have bought billboards in the Atlanta area where the Super Bowl will be played that say, “Saints got robbed,” “NFL bleaux it” and “They reffed up.”
Others have enlisted the Change.org site to get signatures for their petition that states: We want an NFC Championship rematch Sunday, Jan. 27 after refs missed call.
Louisiana attorney Frank D'Amico Jr even filed a lawsuit that experts say has no chance of winning against the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
And many Saints fans, including singer Harry Connick Jr., plan to boycott Super Bowl LIII and are encouraging the entire city of New Orleans to do the same.
Coin Flip: Why certain NFL fans think it should be the Chiefs, not the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII
In the case of the AFC Conference Championship game, the gripes are mainly about the current NFL overtime rules.
In the old days of overtime before some recent changes, even if the team who won the coin toss and got the ball first scored a touchdown, the other team would get the ball and be given their own chance to score a touchdown, and if they couldn’t, they’d lose.
With the rule changes, whichever team wins the overtime coin flip gets the ball, but if they can score a touchdown, the game is over and they win the game outright.
And that’s exactly what the Patriots did to win the game.
So the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes never touched the ball in overtime?
Yes, that’s what it came down to – since the Chiefs defense couldn’t prevent Tom Brady from doing what Tom Brady is famous for doing, which is marching his team quickly down the field and scoring a touchdown, Mahomes never got a chance.
And that’s what’s killing the Chiefs fans and plenty of football fans in general.
Forget the rules, it was just too unsatisfying to end a professional football game on a coin flip, especially one that decides who plays in the Super Bowl, because it goes against what makes sports so much fun to watch – two teams with an equal chance to score, best team wins.
Couldn’t the Chiefs have won that game in regulation?
Absolutely, with a minute left in the game when they intercepted Tom Brady’s pass.
Except it turns out that Chiefs’ outside linebacker Dee Ford had lined up in the neutral zone, the penalty negating the interception allowing the Patriots to continue their drive and score the go-ahead touchdown.
And during his final drive of the fourth quarter, Mahomes could have found a way to score a game winning touchdown instead of just a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Did the Chiefs lose in overtime by losing the coin toss?
That’s certainly what it feels like, but it’s not true at all.
Consider this: the NFC Conference Championship game ended in a tie, as well, and the Saints won that coin toss, so that should have been the kiss of death for the Rams.
Except the Rams forced a turnover and went on to score the first touchdown, throwing the ‘coin-toss’ theory right out the window.
How are fans reacting to the coin toss loss?
In terms of this game, Chiefs fans aren’t happy at all, of course, the same way anybody would feel after barely missing the chance to get to the Super Bowl.
And to that, plenty of grumpy yet correct football experts say, get over it, the rules is the rules.
But as far as the bigger football picture goes, there are a lot of folks calling for those overtime rule changes to be returned to how they were so that both teams have a fair shot to win the game in ‘the fifth quarter’.
How has football commissioner Roger Goodell responded to the no-call and coin-toss-loss controversies?
So far, Goodell has not responded to any of this.
That means there will most likely be no do-over game being played this Sunday against the Rams and the Saints.
And there will most likely be no last minute rule changes before the Super Bowl, like making pass interference calls reviewable in the fourth quarter or giving both teams a shot in overtime.
But what Goodell is missing out on by staying quiet on the matter (which has become a habit of his), is the opportunity to make a reassuring public statement that lets NFL fans know that he has heard all of the complaints and will begin to explore all of the options for solutions this offseason.
Were Goodell to do that, perhaps the rest of us could rest easy and go about the business of enjoying the last professional football game of the season.
It is the Super Bowl, after all.
Are the wrong two teams playing in Super Bowl LIII?
Of course not.
And that’s regardless of how much more desirable these other matchups would have been:
Between the one-seeds: Saints vs. Chiefs
Between the two HOF GOAT quarterbacks: Saints vs. Patriots
Between the two young-phenom quarterbacks: Rams vs. Chiefs
Instead, it’s crafty old Bill Belichick’s and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots (once again, to the dismay of every other AFC team) playing against the Los Angeles Rams, with the youngest head coach in the NFL, Sean McVay and his on-the-field executor Jarod Goff.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, agree with the current rules or not, those are the two teams that fought and won their way into the NFL’s 2018-19 Big Game.
And chances are it’s going to be one of the top-viewed (if not the most-viewed) television event of the year, as usual, so if you’re a football fan you’re not going to want to miss it.
It is the Super Bowl, after all.