The 2018-2019 campaign for the Falcons was one of the most miserable and disappointing seasons that I can remember. A team with legitimate Super Bowl hopes coming in never found their footing out of the gate, quickly fell to 1-4 and failed to spend a single week over .500 the entire season.
The offense never soared, and the defense was decimated by injuries.
Meanwhile, their arch-rivals, the New Orleans Saints bulldozed the rest of the NFC on the way to their second consecutive NFC South title. Drew Brees had an MVP caliber season; Michael Thomas received first-team All-Pro honors over Julio Jones, and New Orleans clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in one of the most feared stadiums in all of football.
They were just two games away from playing a Super Bowl in Atlanta’s stadium, and once the ball tipped off Alshon Jeffery’s fingertips in the Divisional round, it felt like destiny.
Until the Rams happened.
The NFC Championship could not have started better for the home team. A raucous crowd prevented Jared Goff and Co. from feeling comfortable early on, resulting in a turnover on the opening possession and a scoreless first quarter.
But the Rams defense would stand firm, holding the Saints to two critical field goals while their offense was getting adjusted. The key possession came right before halftime when Goff hit Brandin Cooks down the sideline to set up the Rams’ first touchdown. Finally, Los Angeles felt like they had life, trailing by just three as they headed to the locker room in a game where they were dominated.
The Saints began the second half much like the first. They quickly forced the Rams to go three and out and responded with a 12-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to stretch the lead back to double-digits. However, a resilient Rams team led by a much-improved Jared Goff would not lay down. They answered with a long, 75-yard touchdown drive of their own to cut the lead back to three.
After a few punts, Los Angeles put together another wonderful drive in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie or take the league. Questionably, Sean McVay opted to take the points and tie the game with the ball sitting at the one-foot line. A decision that could have come back and haunted the Rams had the referees not made one of the best no-calls in history on the following possession.
With just over five minutes remaining, Drew Brees and the Saints received the ball with the game knotted at twenty. A position where Brees has excelled over his Hall-of-Fame career. From experience (as an Atlanta fan), we know just how easily Brees can kill four minutes off the clock with his dink-and-dunk passing style and ice the game with a field goal. That’s precisely what would have happened if it wasn’t for this missed call.
The officiating crew can say it's a judgement call but honestly it's an easy call when you're the ref standing right there looking at the play. Sean Payton has the right to be beyond livid with the NFL. Here's the missed call that cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. @wdsu pic.twitter.com/1ahQXOi3rV
— Sharief Ishaq (@ShariefWDSU) January 21, 2019
That play would have given the Saints a first down and allowed them to kick the ball with no time remaining on the clock. Instead, New Orleans left just enough time for Los Angeles. Goff, who was fantastic in the second half, orchestrated an outstanding one-minute drive to set the Rams up for a game-tying field goal.
Let’s be clear about something: That was an egregious no-call by the referees. But like Saints’ fans and most fans in general, they like to imagine that was the only missed call of the whole game. The truth is there were a lot, and they mostly went in favor of the home team (The Saints). This play also did not stop the Saints from preventing a field goal on the next possession, and it did not affect what happens next.
Not surprisingly, the Saints won the coin toss and received the benefit of getting the ball first in overtime. But luckily, Drew Brees’s magic ran out. On a second and long, the Rams found Brees’s Achilles’ Heel – pressure in the face – and instead of taking the sack, Brees forced an awful throw that was intercepted near midfield.
Los Angeles could not do much with the ball, but when you have Greg the Leg, you don’t need to. With all of Atlanta behind him, Zuerlein nailed a 57-yard field goal to break the heart of the city of New Orleans.
And nobody is happier than the fans of the Falcons.
Arthur Blank told Jeff Schultz of the Athletic (subscription required), “I am smiling”, in regards to the Rams being in the Super Bowl instead of the Saints.
And of course, Twitter had a field day:
— matt bryant (@Matt_Bryant3) January 20, 2019
— SportsTalkATL.com (@SportsTalkATL) January 20, 2019
You can pick which one you like best, but the most ironic part of the Saints losing is just how “Atlanta” it was. The Saints were at home, a superior team, had a thirteen point head start and seemingly did everything in their power not to win. The botched call at the end was the icing on the cake. This was a work of art from an Atlanta perspective and a game that makes the 2018-2019 season feel much more satisfying than it actually was.
Later on, we found out Tom Brady and the Patriots would win the AFC, clinching their third consecutive Super Bowl berth. I don’t have to remind you how much of a disaster a Saints-Patriots Super Bowl would have been in Atlanta. Let’s thank our lucky stars that the Saints are – what’s that word again – CHOKERS.