The controversial pass interference no call that helped enable the L.A. Rams to come from behind and beat the New Orleans Saints 26-23 in overtime for the NFC Championship Sunday night continues.
However, over the course of the last two days of hyperbole and exaggeration, we felt it was time to now give some perspective that the Saints are not any more aggrieved than some of the other classic blown calls in this century in big games in the NFL Playoffs and also, one college football championship game.
First, no one is arguing that the league and Bill Vinovich’s officiating crew clearly missed what should have been a pass interference call (above) on a third down play, that would have given the Saints a first down, a chance to run the clock all the way down and kick a game-winning field goal with just seconds left.
However it’s also not in dispute that the Saints were playing at home, with a 13 – 0 lead, against a quarterback (Jared Goff), who had never played in a postseason road game in the NFL. Yet, New Orleans allowed Goff and the Rams offense to rally not once, but twice, to tie them in the second half.
This included, in the final minute of the game, where the Saints could have still stopped the Rams after the controversy and the non-pass interference call would have been an afterthought.
Clearly, New Orleans also won the toss, had the ball first and could have won the game with a touchdown like the Patriots did later in the evening in overtime in Kansas City for the AFC Championship. In fact, New Orleans did this in the regular season win at Atlanta, when they tied the game, forced overtime, won the toss, and then, took the kickoff and went right down to score a touchdown to end it before the Falcons ever touched the ball.
Back to Sunday, that did not happen. As Drew Brees was intercepted after being hit as he threw, by former Gators and Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler. Once again, the Saints defense also failed to stop the inexperienced Goff, as he moved them the extra 20 yards into field-goal range and Greg Zuerlein booted Los Angeles into the Super Bowl.
The point of detailing all of that out above is: the Saints still had chances after the non-pass interference call. Chances at home. Chances, even with the lead in the final minute to seal that game. Chances in overtime to win the game and be playing the Super Bowl.
And, our further point we are about to make is: this blown non-call was no less heinous in a humongous game than several other examples:
In that game, in overtime, Miami had an opportunity to stop Ohio State on 4th down to prevent them from tying the game with a touchdown. When Craig Krenzel threw a pass into the end zone that fell the ground in complete on fourth down, the game was over. The Hurricanes ran onto the field and began to celebrate the win and another national title.
That is, until it was discovered that one of the officials had thrown his flag for defensive pass interference. It gave Ohio State new life, a new set of downs and they tied the game on touchdown, shortly thereafter. They eventually scored another TD in the second OT, stopped Miami and won the controversial game.
15 years later Hurricanes fans are still bemoaning that “iffy flag decision”, which most believed was wrong. And, there is no dispute that that play cost them winning the national championship in that moment.
And we’re talking college football’s Super Bowl being decided on a fourth-down call by an official’s flag keeping the game alive.
That’s a bigger deal than Sunday in the Superdome. Period. The End.
Moving on though:
The next memorable nightmare is for Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans and it came in the equally important 2000 NFC Championship game in St Louis. That’s when the Buccaneers had a completion from quarterback Shaun King to receiver Bert Emanuel overturned on instant replay that would have given the Bucs a key first down, while trailing 11 – 6 in the waning two minutes of the game.
Instead, the replay overturned it saying that even though Emmanuel had caught the ball, part of it touched the ground. It was now fourth down and the Bucs could not convert. The Rams got the ball, won the game and eventually, Kurt Warner and company won the Super Bowl over the Titans after that.
While that replay overturn of the Emanuel catch was not the final play of the game, it killed any realistic chance for Tampa Bay to get a first down or touchdown in that moment. Sure, they could have converted on fourth down, and sure, they could have eventually gotten in the end zone. And, the St.Louis Rams deserve credit for doing what there Los Angeles version did Sunday. Take advantage of the call, play defense on the next play and win the game.
It doesn’t make Tampa Bay fans feel any better that they felt “robbed” in St. Louis almost 20 years ago.
Oakland Raiders fans are still fuming at the league, the Patriots, Tom Brady and instant replay after their Divisional round playoff game in January 2002 had apparently been decided when DB Charles Woodson famously stripped Tom Brady of the ball with less than two minutes remaining with Raiders up by three.
The Raiders recovered the “fumble” and would have been able to kneel on the ball twice and run the clock out. However, again, replay overturned that fumble on the famous “Tuck Rule” (that has now been modified).
The Patriots got the ball back, and the Raiders could not stop them from kicking an Adam Vinatieri field goal to tie them in the snow. And, a little while later, Vinatieri won the game in overtime with a second snowy field goal.
Sure, under the same premise that we laid out for the Saints above: the Raiders could have continued to stop the Patriots from tying the game or winning it in overtime with a field goals after the replay overturn. However, that doesn’t mean that the officials call was any less worse on Raider fans. They still believe this day it should have been their ball and they should have been kneeling on it and going to the AFC Championship Game the following week in Pittsburgh.
And then there’s the Dallas Cowboys and the infamous catch/no catch involving Tony Romo’s pass to receiver Dez Bryant on a fourth-down play the final 5:00 in the Divisional round game in January 2015 at Lambeau Field. That catch/no catch, is more egregious than the Emmanuel Buccaneers play or the Saints play on Sunday.
It was a fourth-down play for Dallas and it was called complete for a first and goal to potentially help Dallas win the game with a TD. Relive the moment here:
But, when replay overturned it, the Packers got the ball because of the call.
Now, in fairness, and different from the Miami Hurricanes, Buccaneers and Raiders, where the game was essentially over, the Cowboys were like the Saints. They had a chance on defense to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to get the ball back once more. They could not. The Packers got two first downs and ran the clock out.
Now, Cowboy fans are screaming five years later about that scenario above, many of them not remembering they could have gotten the ball back once more.
Kind of like New Orleans fans, wounds still fresh from Sunday don’t want to accept that they still could have won the game multiple times/ways.
We acknowledge Saints fans are never going to forget this, and they’re going to constantly blame the officials no call for the game they didn’t win.
But we just laid out above, it’s hardly the first time and many other fan bases (including two in our state) have dealt with the same thing with a huge game on the line in the 2000s. And, have had just as much right to scream, too.
This is nothing new.
Welcome to human beings officiating, instant replay controversies and the game of football.
Potential free agents still available
With training camps for the Bucs, the Dolphins and the Jaguars getting underway later in the month, we will constantly take a look at the potential free agent pool still sitting out there that could help any of them, if needed.
All three teams are coming off of losing seasons, and two of them have new coaching staffs. Plus, you factor the potential ofinjury in training camp or preseason and it may make it necessary to grab one of the upcoming veterans.
With that in mind, here are the prominent remaining names that legendary NFL personnel executive and current NFL media analyst Gil Brandt has. And, Brandt even went so far, as to place them on a likely roster for this fall, too.
At running back, Brandt has former Dolphins and Eagles back, Jay Ajayi, with the following analysis,
The question of whether or not Ajayi will be ready by Week 1 after suffering an ACL tear last October could be tempering interest in a veteran back who averaged a robust 5.1 yards per carry over 11 games with the Eagles in 2017 and ’18. Presuming Ajayi is able to return to health, he would be a logical fit with the Colts, given his familiarity with head coach Frank Reich. (Reich was Ajayi’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, where he was traded by Miami in ’17.) Only six people in NFL history have more 200-yard rushing games than Ajayi (three), and when he’s 100 percent, he can contribute as both a runner and a receiver.
With the recent four game PED suspension of veteran DB Ryan Smith, the Bucs might be interested in a veteran corner. While Tampa Bay doesn’t have much cap room, Brandt wonders if they could still make a restructure, etc. and perhaps go for former #1 pick Morris Claiborne,
A former first-round pick, who revived his career in New York over the past two seasons after a disappointing first stint with the Cowboys, in 2018, Claiborne recorded 57 tackles, 14 passes defensed and two picks, including one touchdown — all career highs. The coaching staff has changed over, and there is reported interest in Claiborne from Tampa, where Claiborne’s old head coach, Todd Bowles, is the new defensive coordinator. But I should think Claiborne would still fit in the Gregg Williams-helmed unit in New York.
Finally, if you are looking for veteran receiver help and a big target, former Panthers first rounder Kelvin Benjamin is someone Brandt likes,
Benjamin topped 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie, but more or less disappeared over the past two seasons, scraping together just over 1,000 combined yards while changing teams twice (he was traded to Buffalo in ’17, waived by the Bills last year and spent three games in Kansas City). With Odell Beckham Jr. gone, New York needs receiver depth. Might Gettleman and Shula’s familiarity with Benjamin help him get his career back on track?
The Fins and the Jaguars might also be in the market for the former Seminoles star.
Look for all three of those names, plus former Pro Bowl DT Muhammad Wilkerson, and Safety Eric Berry, plus, LB Nick Perry could all be in play, for August signings, as well.
Sunday night latest reminder of how NBA- NFL free agency differs
Sunday night was an absolute frenzy of free agent activity in the NBA. No matter if it was social media or ESPN or NBA TV, the contracts and the money were a blur. This, as teams attempted to either keep important players or watched them leave for another better offer somewhere else, and then, set out to sign someone to replace those leaving.
Most prominently, former League MVP and two-time champ with the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant, signed a massive four year $164 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets. This despite the fact that Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon in game five of the NBA Finals and likely will not be able to play most of next season. Yet, that money is fully guaranteed through 2023. More on that in a moment.
Then, other names kept scrolling on screens and Tweets, Etc. like: Kyrie Irving joining Durant in Brooklyn, Jimmy Butler headed to the Heat in South Florida, Kemba Walker headed to Boston to replace Irving, and Al Horford ending up in Philadelphia. And the names and deals went on, and on, and on.
The most prominent unsigned player, as of Monday afternoon, is Toronto free agent and new World Champ Kawhi Leonard. And it still remains to be seen, whether he will remain in Canada or head to Hollywood to play for the Lakers?
Now, couple of things are strikingly different about NBA free agency from what we see every March with the NFL.
First, and this is the most common complaint of NFL players, everyone of these NBA deals are fully guaranteed. That means if a team tires of a player and wants to get rid of them, they are still on the hook to pay them the full salaries that you’re seeing and reading about the last 24 hours. And, it’s staggering to contemplate players being given 30+ million a year and a team doesn’t want them. However, it regularly happens with NBA players/deals.
But, no NFL team, none of them, will do those type of guaranteed deals and then just outright release the player, like the NBA will do.
No instead, most NFL deals are only partially guaranteed with rare exceptions. NFL players try to get as much money as possible in the form of a signing bonus or guarantees in the first couple of years of the contract. This is because it’s well-known that pro football teams will grow tired of players, change to coaching staff who don’t want them, Etc. Then, a player will be released when his money is no longer guaranteed to him and it can save the club under the salary cap, too.
A massive recent example of this that applies to one of our state NFL teams is the Jaguars humongous deal to grab QB Nick Foles away from the Eagles. It’s for 4 years and $88 million with a huge signing bonus and $50 million guaranteed. However, most of Foles’ money is tied to the first two years of the contract and the team can lessen its financial burden, if it wants in year three and certainly by year four. They would do this, if Foles not living up to what they believe he can be in North Florida..
And, two recent examples of this with the other two Florida NFL teams have shown the dark side of what NFL teams can do two players that still have quality years left, but the team believes have too big of a price tag.
The Buccaneers did it most recently with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had signed a lucrative six-year contract three seasons ago, but all of the signing bonus and guaranteed money was taken care of in the first three years the deal. This made McCoy expendable, when Bruce Arians and his new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles showed up in January and his $13 million dollars was believed to be too much money. The team released McCoy in May and he signed with the division rival Panthers a week later.
The Dolphins did the same after a lucrative deal with Ndamukong Suh in the 2018 free agency. Not wanting to pay him the non-guaranteed $17 million dollars that he was owed for last year he was released. Suh eventually landed a one-year deal with the L.A. Rams for $3 million less, and helped them go to the Super Bowl year ago.
And now, ironically, Suh has signed another one-year deal with the Buccaneers to replace McCoy, and even take their shared number 93, with his new team in Tampa Bay.
Another obvious difference is: there are many fewer free agents in the NBA, because there are so many fewer players on rosters. So whenever the free agency gets rolling, the best players are in the most demand quickly in “bidding wars” with their old team and possible new ones.
Now, NFL and the NBA are similar in that only a few players take up much of the salary cap. In the NBA’s case it’s usually the top two or three on a 12-man roster. However, for the NFL, it’s usually about the top six or seven in a 53-man roster that are taking up the bulk of salary-cap space.
Most of the other players on NBA and NFL rosters make drastically less and close to the league minimum on deals.
One, other huge difference with they NBA is the prominent players themselves, have much more leverage on recruiting other free agents to join them and almost become “defacto GMs.” This is because of the massive guaranteed deals they have with a team, and because of there being fewer prize free agents year after year after year.
That enables someone like LeBron James to decide he’s going to pair up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and go win titles in Miami like he did last decade. However, he’s then free to decide who is going to roll back to the Cleveland Cavaliers with and assemble and win a championship there like they did three years ago.
And then for good measure, LeBron decided a year ago at this time that he would leave Cleveland (for a second time) and head West to the Lakers. And now, he has already orchestrated L.A. to trade for New Orleans star big man Anthony Davis and a symbol other players around him at his discretion.
It’s further believed that the reason Brooklyn was able to land both Durant and Irving is because the two of them had decided together that they wanted to play with each other in the New York Market, but, clearly not for the more prominent Knicks.
Again, players on teams in the NFL can recruit their buddies, and sometimes are successful to them to come on board. But, it is not as prevalent and impactful, as what has gone on for more than 10 years in the NBA with its free agency.
And, it was certainly in full motion on Sunday night for the NBA.