Can you imagine the dichotomy of last weekend’s NFL Conference championship games?
I’ve never seen anything like it.
On one hand you had the thrill of two overtime battles to decide this year’s Super Bowl matchup.
On the other hand you had the well-deserved, much-discussed blemish of the calls by officials working both games that made them Topic A in post-game analysis.
Before we get to the problem, let’s get one thing straight. Regardless of how the rulings affected the game, there is absolutely no guarantee that had they gone the other way, the result would have been different. There is no guarantee that a field goal would have been made here, or a touchdown there, to change the ultimate outcome. Probability and a sure thing are not the same.
The non-call in the Rams-Saints NFC title game was shocking.
You might have heard about it ad nauseam by now, We won’t go into detail here except to point out that the officials failed to call a most obvious pass-interference foul as well as a helmet-to-helmet blow against a defenseless receiver which would have put the Saints in prime position to take time off the clock to set up a game-winning field goal leaving the Rams no time to answer.
Instead, the field goal the Saints made, gave the Rams enough time to tie the game with a three-pointer, setting up overtime, which was won by the Rams on a 47-yard field goal.
The non-call made a difference, a big difference.
The Rams defensive back admitted he committed a foul. Everyone saw it, it seems, but the two officials charged with making the call.
In the second game, the AFC championship, there were more instances of rulings that were questionable, enough to make the calls the center of attention, almost relegating the play on the field to the back burner.
I say almost, because, as distasteful as these circumstances are, the exciting play and the thrilling moments exceed everything else.
Well, unless a wager you made is involved.
These were two fabulous games that had the viewer anchored to his seat. They went the distance, and then some.
It is a fascinating phenomenon that all season long, teams battle to win enough games to gain a home field advantage in post-season.
The teams that wind up as the number one seed in their respective conferences, know the road to the Super Bowl go through their home arenas. The Saints and Chiefs earned that edge, and were favorites to advance to Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta. Lo and behold, not only did the home teams lose, but the critical officials rulings went against them as well.
It was the Saints who were the victims of the non-call in New Orleans.
And it was the Chiefs who were called for a roughing-the-passer penalty that never happened, in Kansas City. There were calls that also affected the Patriots in the AFC game, that were challenged and reviewed. It wasn’t a one-way street, to be sure. But I think the league, unquestionably, has an issue with officials and the inconsistent rulings.
First, let’s celebrate the Los Angeles Rams, and what they have accomplished in a short time.
In 2016, the Rams had a 4-12 record. Their head coach, Jeff Fisher, was fired before the end of the season, and their rookie quarterback Jared Goff, in his brief action, looked like a failed Number One draft choice.
In came Sean McVay, the youngest head coach ever. At 31, McVay brought an imaginative offensive philosophy, an ability to connect with Goff and set him on the fast track.
In his first season, McVay, whose grandfather, John McVay helped build the San Francisco 49ers dynasty under Bill Walsh, guided the Rams to an 11-5 record and the NFC West crown. They lost their one playoff game, but this year they improved to 12-4 and have captured both post-season games on their way to a Super Bowl thought to be impossible two short years ago.
McVay also has a “knack” as a head coach. The ability to bring an entire team together. The ability to relate. To press the right buttons. There are those coaches in the game who have that “knack”. We all know the Patriots’ Bill Belichick has had it for nearly two decades. Other teams chase the next McVay, or the next Belichick. Most of the time, to no avail. They simply can’t be copied. You have to be smart enough to find your own. Good luck.
Against the experienced Saints, and their sure-shot future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, the Rams hung tough after falling behind on the road 13-0 into the second quarter. They managed to stay in the game, and took their only lead on the overtime field goal to win. That takes tremendous poise, and belief. That takes a great coach to get his team to respond that way. That’s what Sean McVay is. He turned 33 this week.
I feel for Andy Reid, the head coach of the Chiefs. He has been a terrific leader for the Eagles and now KC. But Andy is the ultimate bridesmaid. And he can’t beat a Bill Belichick team. He didn’t when the Patriots beat the Eagles in Super Bowl 39, and he didn’t earlier this season. Of course, many coaches have been in the same boat as Reid. Those who have lost to New England Bill in big games.
Going into the game, I figured Belichick would come up with something young Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes hadn’t seen. Just one, unusual look, Mahomes hadn’t experienced, to make the difference. Actually, the Pats did considerable blitzing of their linebackers and secondary to advantage. But Mahomes was undaunted, and actually played up the level that should make him the league’s Most Valuable Player. Mahomes was a backup as a rookie in 2017. So this was really his first season. A truly remarkable quarterback.
Where the Chiefs fell short was on the defensive side of the ball.
They failed to blitz themselves, didn’t pressure the still-legendary Tom Brady and were burned by giving him all the time in the world to spot open receivers and get the ball to them. They also couldn’t stop the Patriots running game. The failure of the defense was a recipe for defeat against a team that was able to use their rare underdog status as added incentive. Give this great New England organization added incentive is suicidal. They will carry that into the Super Bowl, no doubt.
Notice, how the Patriots play hard, tough, smart, physical football and yet avoid the “look at me” antics that mark virtually every other team in the league. I have an idea for the teams that rehearse and display sophomoric maneuvers after a touchdown, catch, sack or interception. Rehearse and display sound football, like the Patriots do, and maybe you’ll get a Super Bowl ring someday. As the great running back Jim Brown used to say, when you score a touchdown, act like you’ve been there before.
As for the problem with the officials, I don’t really have an answer.
Should the league’s headquarters a thousand miles away change a call or non-call?
Should we go back to the old-fashioned way of calls made, not reviewed, and allow for the human error?
We had human error in New Orleans, and with all the technology at hand,
nothing could be changed. It seems that we have fewer instances of officials’ problems in the college game. Controversial plays and rulings are termed “under review” and decided upstairs with a further look at the video.
I happen to believe, the determination to “get it right” has affected all sports. Constant and lengthy reviews of a play have ruined the natural momentum of NBA, college basketball, and MLB games. The conclusion of many games take forever.
Again, I don’t have the answer. But it seems no one is satisfied with the way things are in sports officiating.
Whatever the ultimate answer may be. We haven’t found it yet.
But for the Rams and the Patriots, they’re not looking back.
They’re on to the Super Bowl. Well deserved for both.