Stop whining, the Rams and Patriots earned their way to Super Bowl LIII
The level of our NFL discourse has deteriorated to such mind-numbing depths that three days after an historic Championship Weekend, all anyone wants to talk about are the referees, overtime rules, competition committee meetings and some hurt feelings.
Well, I’ve had about enough. Message for everyone: Stop whining.
And maybe turn your frustration into appreciation for an entertaining weekend of football and a highly-anticipated Super Bowl LIII matchup between the L.A. Rams and New England Patriots that both teams EARNED.
Did Bill Vinovich’s officiating crew screw the New Orleans Saints by not calling Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman’s interference of Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis? You bet they did.
Was it a bummer that America didn’t get to see Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs get the ball in overtime? From an entertainment standpoint, it sure was.
But Rams QB Jared Goff made two enormous throws under duress in overtime while the Saints’ Drew Brees threw an interception under pressure on the first drive of OT.
And New England’s defense, led by soon-to-be Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, held the high-powered Chiefs scoreless in the first half for the first time all season.
The NFL’s officiating is and will continue to be a story, sure. But don’t pretend like the Rams and Patriots didn’t make plays to win these games, and conversely, don’t pretend the Saints and Chiefs weren’t culpable in losing them.
The real focus of Sunday’s championship games should be on the players, coaches and football that decided the results and especially not on contrived, nonsensical controversies like this overtime rules debate.
How can people be calling the NFL’s overtime rules unfair for giving the Patriots the ball first to score and win the AFC title game when on the same day, just hours earlier, the Saints had won the OT toss in the NFC Championship Game, turned the ball over, and lost?
To me, anyone who watched Sunday’s games and had that as their main takeaway needs to have their head examined.
I mean, honestly: you’re going to watch a first half in which the Patriots outscore the host Chiefs 14-0 and outgain them 245 to 32; a fourth quarter in which Kansas City coughs up a 28-24 lead with 1:57 left in regulation on their home field; a back-breaking Dee Ford offsides penalty that cancels out what would have been a game-ending interception of Tom Brady by DB Charvarius Ward … and your takeaway is the Chiefs deserved another possession in overtime?
Chiefs coach Andy Reid isn’t making excuses. He already fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton for failing to come up with any plan to stop Brady’s offense down the stretch.
Now is it fair to fire Sutton just because Ford lined up offsides, while Reid’s offense didn’t even show up until the third quarter? Now that’s a point worth debating.
But I think it’s worthwhile to note how Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel, a first-round pick, carried the ball 29 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns; how the Patriots’ linebackers coach Flores, 37, New England’s de facto defensive coordinator out of Brooklyn, executed a brilliant game plan that bodes well for the Dolphins’ future.
Or how about how Dante Scarnecchia’s Patriots’ offensive line recorded the best pass blocking game by any team this entire NFL season, per ESPN analytics. Noteworthy, yeah?
The Saints, meanwhile, coughed up leads of 13-0, 20-10 and 23-20 to even allow the Rams and a bad call to take them into overtime. Sean Payton’s decision to throw the ball on first down coming out of the two-minute warning, which led to an incompletion, left valuable time on the clock for the Rams to send the game to OT.
All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas, who had shredded the Rams for 12 catches, 211 yards and a touchdown in Week 9, finished Sunday’s game with just four catches for 36 yards.
Brees (five interceptions on 489 pass attempts in the regular season) launched one dangerous pass downfield with the game tied in the fourth quarter that should have been intercepted by Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner and fortunately was caught by the Saints’ Ted Ginn.
And then Brees, 40, when hit by Rams trade deadline acquisition Dante Fowler, put one up for grabs in overtime that Rams safety John Johnson III picked off.
Goff, 24, on the other hand, not only drove the Rams 45 yards in 82 seconds at the end of regulation to tie the game with Greg Zuerlein’s first big end-of-game field goal. But in OT, after Johnson’s interception, Goff was pressured twice just as hotly as Brees had been by Fowler.
Goff, though, side-armed his first throw with his body twisted to tight end Tyler Higbee for 12 yards with Saints end Alex Okafor bearing down. And then Goff muscled his final completion to Higbee for six yards with Saints end Cam Jordan tossing Goff backward and safety Von Bell finishing the Rams’ quarterback off. That set up Zuerlein’s 57-yard game-winning field goal.
Not to mention C.J. Anderson had 17 touches to Todd Gurley’s five at running back for Sean McVay’s Rams in a winning effort. Or that the Rams’ frightening defensive front of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers and Fowler just may be the reason why L.A. actually can pull this off in Atlanta two Sundays from now.
The NFL still needs to hold accountable Vinovich’s officiating crew, no question. The consequences must be severe for such an egregious error in New Orleans’ defeat. And frankly, I also have a problem with two big fourth-quarter calls by referee Clete Blakeman’s crew and the league in Kansas City: the reversal of Julian Edelman’s muffed punt and a phantom roughing the passer call against the Chiefs’ Chris Jones.
More than anything, though, the bottom line is this: the Rams and Patriots did plenty to win and advance, and the Saints and Chiefs did their parts to lose, too.
Pat Leonard is a columnist for New York Daily News