Who would have guessed the officials also started bringing ski masks to Saints games?

If you missed it, here’s what happened during the NFC title game: The New Orleans Saints outplayed the Los Angeles Rams during a 26-23 loss. The New Orleans Saints could not beat the shoddy officiating at the end of the game which gifted the Rams a trip to the Super Bowl. So, maybe next year, guys!

It is true that the Saints should never have allowed it to get to this point. New Orleans still could have and should have won, even after the stick-up kids stole their opportunity in regulation.

You can pick plays at both ends of the game that should have turned out differently. Drew Brees shouldn’t have thrown an interception in overtime after winning the coin toss, and tight end Dan Arnold knows that his drop in the end zone during the first quarter played a part in this loss. That’s why he sat at his locker, in full uniform, eyes red, and said, “I wasn’t strong enough in the moment.”

Don’t feel bad, Dan. These officials weren’t ready for the moment, even if their antics showed they were ready to join Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Michael Thomas in wearing ski masks, something the players say they do to symbolize their willingness to take whatever they want on the field.

Arnold's negative play should be forgotten behind a sea of jubilance, not something splayed apart in an autopsy of what went wrong. That doesn’t make it any better, but that play wouldn't matter, and Brees' interception would never have happened if the officials had done their jobs.

Here’s what matters: Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman committed two textbook infractions on Tommylee Lewis, and inexplicably, neither was called on a third-and-10 play late in the fourth quarter. One was pass interference. The other was a helmet-to-helmet hit.

You’d think the odds were pretty good there of getting a call, having two penalties on one play. Nope. An official with a clear sightline of the missed both, and apparently, no one else on the field saw Lewis get hit while the ball was in the air.

How does something like that even happen?

“Without bashing a so-said referee who is supposed to be a leader at his job, I don’t know,” defensive end Cam Jordan said. “Blame it on the government shutdown. I don’t know. At some point this (expletive) is ridiculous.”

To be fair, the helmet-to-helmet stuff is dicey. Calling those allegedly was a priority this season, but the Saints learned you can't count on those calls during a loss to Dallas earlier this year. The officials missed a big one on Alvin Kamara that week, but the guilty party got fined after the fact.

You can always count on the league to own up to things after the games are over and the results are locked in.

But pass interference — the officials usually have no problems calling that one. One of the guys in stripes made a big show of tossing a flag in overtime in favor of the Saints, so they definitely sort of know what it looks like and sometimes call it the right way.

That's what makes this result so tough. The Saints almost certainly win if either penalty are caught, being that they would have had the ball at about the 6-yard line with less than two minutes remaining and Los Angeles only had one timeout.

Instead of giving him a flag, the league apologized to Sean Payton and the Saints for missing both of the calls immediately after the game.

So what’s it like when you lose a game that you would have won barring some freak occurrence?

“It sucks,” Lewis said. “It’s definitely a tough one to get over.”

Were you the better the team on Sunday?

“No question,” Lewis said. “Didn’t you think we were the better team?”

It looked like the Saints were the team with the ball and the clock on their side, but we also thought the Saints were only playing the guys wearing Rams helmets. So maybe we aren't the best people to ask.

This really is a shocking result. It is one thing when the other team beats you, or you make a mistake at the end of a game and lose. It is an entirely different result when the officials take a victory away.

Even Brees, who tried to be diplomatic and talk about “the things I can control,” eventually admitted he was surprised side judge Gary Cavaletto decided not to penalize Robey-Coleman for accosting Lewis.

“Well, being that it happened right in front of the person who would be the one making that call, and everyone in the stands and everyone watching at home on TV, yeah, that makes it more difficult,” Brees said. “Like I said, in the moment you yell and scream, ‘How’d you not see it?’ But after the fact, it’s like, ‘All right. Nothing you can do about it. Onto the next play.’ ”

But it’s OK, right? The Saints will be back. The 40-year-old Brees has endless opportunities to win Super Bowls, and good teams stay good in the NFL. It's not like the league actively seeks parity so that pretty much every team has a chance each year.

Oh, wait ... the league's scheduling system is explicitly designed to try and put everyone on equal footing by having the best teams play the hardest schedules, and the bad teams play the easiest schedules. New Orleans is definitely good enough to compete again next year, but nothing is guaranteed.

So try to enjoy the Super Bowl and hope for the best next year. Maybe the league will even put out a statement letting this region know it is super-sorry for messing this one up.

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