On November 4th, 2018, I felt as though my eardrums were about to burst. There was 4:03 left in the game. The Saints had the ball on their own 28-yard line and were clinging to a 38-35 lead. It was 3rd down, seven yards to go. The Superdome was rocking so loudly that it felt like 73,086 people were trying to drown out their nerves with noise. After all, four minutes was nothing for a Rams squad that had already put up 18 points in the second half. If the Saints didn’t convert on that 3rd and long, it felt like the game might slip away.
Drew Brees takes the snap with Michael Thomas in the slot. Thomas beats Marcus Peters on a go route, and Drew Brees drops in one of the most beautiful passes that I’ve ever seen. He hits Thomas in stride, and the rest was lost to me in the pandemonium that erupted in those few seconds thereafter. The final score? 45-35, Saints. The Rams drop to 8-1 and the Saints improve to 7-1.
In what was a surprise to very few people who were paying attention to these NFC Behemoths all season, we were fortunate enough to get a rematch in the NFC Championship Game.
In the Divisional Round, the Rams disposed of the Cowboys 30-22 behind 273 rushing yards on the ground, courtesy of C.J. Anderson (23 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns) and Todd Gurley (16 carries for 115 yards and one touchdown).
On the other side of the conference, the Saints came back from an early 14-0 deficit to defeat the Eagles 20-14. In that contest, Drew Brees passed for 308 yards and two touchdowns, while the Football Cookie Monster, otherwise known as Michael Thomas, caught 12 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown.
Who Dat Say We Gonna Get A Rematch (And A LOT Of Controversy)
On January 20th, 2019, the Saints hosted the Rams in the NFC Championship Game, an exciting rematch with one of the most controversial endings in recent memory. An early interception by Jared Goff and a stagnant Rams offense allowed the Saints to jump out to a quick 13-0 1st Quarter lead. However, the Saints were unable to take full advantage, and the Rams crept back into the game.
A 13-10 halftime deficit became a 20-20 tie as the Saints received the ball with 5:03 to go in the 4th Quarter. Everyone who watched that game knows the rest.
The Saints drove down the field and were faced with a 3rd and long with 1:48 to go from the Rams’ 13 yard-line. Drew Brees threw a pass intended for Tommylee Lewis. Defensive Back Nickell Robey-Coleman put a hard hit on Lewis in what was a pretty clear example of pass interference. However, the penalty was not called, and the Saints settled for a field goal.
The Rams marched right back, kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime, and Greg Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard field goal to send the Rams to the Super Bowl, where they would eventually lose to the Patriots in a 13-3 snooze fest.
The Rams will host the Saints at 4:25 PM Eastern Time in “America’s Game of the Week” on Sunday, September 15th for a Who Dat Homecoming Rematch. It’s a compelling matchup for many reasons, not the least of which is the emotional capital that will be invested in it. The Saints and their fans (and most of the nation and media) feel that the Saints would have won the NFC Championship Game had pass interference rightfully been called on Robey-Coleman.
Sunday marks an opportunity for the team to make a statement towards that end. The Saints are coming off two consecutive heartbreaking postseason losses (the Minneapolis Miracle being the other) and believe that this is the year for everything to finally go right.
On the flip side, the Rams are waving their hands saying “hey, we’re pretty good too!”, and want to show the world that they were, in fact, the better of the two teams last year.
Week 1 Recap
Both teams will go into the game with Week 1 victories in hand, achieved in very different ways.
On Sunday, the Rams squared off against the Carolina Panthers from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Days after signing a massive contract extension, Jared Goff was decent, if not mediocre. He completed 59% of his passes (23-for-39) for 186 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception in the 4th Quarter.
An apparently healthy Todd Gurley only carried the ball 14 times and caught one pass, though he racked up 97 yards on the ground (6.9 YPC).
Malcolm Brown had a nice game, rushing 11 times for 53 yards and two touchdowns.
From a defensive standpoint, the game was a mixed bag. The Rams held the Panthers to only three points in the first half but allowed the Panthers back into the game by allowing 24 points in the second half. However, the defense did cause some havoc. Cory Littleton picked off Cam Newton and recovered a fumble, while Samson Ebukam recovered another. Dante Fowler racked up two sacks, while Clay Matthews Jr. picked up one in his Rams debut. The Rams escaped with a solid 30-27 road victory.
The Saints played host to the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football. Whereas the Rams started out fast and ended slow, the Saints started out slow and picked up the pace as the game went on. As with last year’s NFC Championship Game, the Saints couldn’t escape referee-based (induced?) controversy. The Saints faced a 14-3 deficit as they were set to receive the kickoff with 1:47 left in the 2nd Quarter.
Facing 3rd and 17 from the Saints’ 30 yard-line, Drew Brees fired a pass to Michael Thomas that appeared to be enough for the first down. Thomas was tackled at the 47-yard line with 41 seconds left on the clock. However, the officials stopped the game clock after it had dwindled down to 26 seconds left in order to review the previous play. After confirming that the first down was made, it was announced that per regulations, the Saints had to choose between using their last remaining timeout or accepting a mandated 10-second runoff. The Saints ultimately chose to accept the runoff, and Will Lutz missed a 56-yard field goal as time expired to send the Texans to the locker room with a 14-3 halftime lead.
While it was later confirmed that the regulations were followed correctly in making the Saints choose between a 10-second runoff and a timeout, the NFL admitted that the game clock should have been reset to 41 seconds before running 10 seconds off the clock. Instead of having 31 seconds and 1 timeout to work with, the Saints were left with 16 seconds. Thus, Lutz attempted a 56-yard field goal, which he missed.
After receiving the second-half kickoff, the Saints immediately marched down the field and scored via a 30-yard touchdown run by newly acquired Running Back Latavius Murray.
Deshaun Watson led the Texans right back down the field to retake an 11-point lead, but the Saints scored yet again, this time from a Drew Brees touchdown pass to Quarterback / Running Back / Wide Receiver / Tight End / Punt Blocker / Financial Consultant (probably) / Physics Professor (maybe) / Brain Surgeon (you never know) Taysom Hill. The Saints would then go on to score an additional 10 unanswered points to take a 27-21 lead with 50 seconds remaining.
True to the back and forth nature of the game, it took Deshaun Watson all of 13 seconds to take the Texans back down the field, and DeAndre Hopkins’ 2nd touchdown catch of the game made it 27-27. A missed extra point was nullified by a roughing the kicker penalty, and Houston took a 28-27 lead with 37 seconds left.
What happened next? Of course, Drew Brees took the Saints to the Houston 40-yard line via three passes to set up a game-winning 57-yard field foal from Will Lutz.
Brees completed 74% of his passes (32-for-43) for 370 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a red-zone interception.
The jack of all trades Alvin Kamara carried the football 13 times for 97 yards and added seven catches for 72 yards. Football Cookie Monster Michael Thomas caught 10 passes for 123 yards.
The defense was more of a mixed bag, racking up six sacks and picking off Watson once, while allowing 7.8 yards per carry on the ground and 13.4 yards per catch through the air. Final Score: 30-28 New Orleans.
What will happen on Sunday is anyone’s guess, but most would be surprised if we aren’t treated to an emotional, high-scoring, and entertaining game. As in 2018, both teams are expected to compete for a Lombardi Trophy in 2019, and have young, deep, and talented rosters on both sides of the ball.
Will Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, the flagship stars of the young L.A. offense find their groove again? Neither has played poorly per say, but Goff hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since Week 11 of last year, and Gurley has racked up 20 carries in a game only once since Week 8 (he had 20+ carries in four out of six weeks to begin 2018 and had 19 and 17 carries in the other two). He also hasn’t had more than three catches in a game since Week 9.
Is Cooper Kupp healthy and ready for a full workload? He looked good in Week 1, so we’ll hope so.
Is Brandin Cooks going to show up?
Will the Rams defense be ready to slow down the electric Saints offense?
As for the Saints, will the defense finally be able to make a stand on 3rd down? Will they lean heavily on a fearsome running attack, or will they put the ball in the hands of their Hall of Fame QB and let him do his thing? Will they be able to generate pressure on Jared Goff as they were able to do against Deshaun Watson?
On the heels of an emotional Week 1 victory and a desire to prove a point, I think the Saints win in a back and forth contest that captures much of last year’s magic between these two teams. I sense that Jared Goff will have a big day as the Saints generate pressure but are again vulnerable on 3rd down. However, I don’t trust the L.A. defense. Although they played very well against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Rams weren’t effective in slowing down high-powered offenses in 2018, including the Vikings (31 points), Seahawks (31 points twice), Saints (45 points), Chiefs (51 points), and Eagles (30 points). I think Brees, Kamara, Thomas and Co win in a high scoring nail-biter. The final score? 38-33.