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Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein (4) kicks the game winning field goal in the NFC Championship against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, January 20, 2019, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. The Rams beat the Saints 26-23 in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl.

The Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd, roaring at a deafening level all Sunday afternoon, all of a sudden went silent.

Shocked.

Stunned.

One win away from going to Atlanta for the Super Bowl and two wins shy of fulfilling that season-long motto of "Prove them right."

Silenced by a field goal that sailed through the same uprights that just nine years earlier sent the Dome into a frenzy. 

Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein closed the curtain on the Saints' season, nailing a 57-yard field goal in overtime to hand the Saints, and the 73,028 fans, a heartbreaking 26-23 defeat in the NFC championship game.

"We'll probably never get over it," Sean Payton said. "The truth is some of these losses like this (are impossible to get over). One like that, it's too bad."

Nine years ago, it was New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley who kicked a 40-yard field goal in overtime to send the Saints to their first Super Bowl.

But this time the tables were turned as the Saints lost a playoff game in the Dome for the first time in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era.

They were 6-0 at home since Payton and Brees came to New Orleans in 2006.

They were close to making it 7-0.

With the game tied at 20 with 1:49 left in regulation, the Saints drove the ball to the Rams 13-yard line.

On third-and-10, Brees threw a pass to Tommylee Lewis, who appeared to get interfered with on the play by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.

"I bounced up looking for a flag and didn't see one," Lewis said. "I was shocked about that."


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So the Saints had to settle for a Wil Lutz field goal, his third of the day.

"Yeah, that's tough to swallow," Brees said. "I think there were plenty of times throughout the season there's calls that go against you, go for you, or they miss it or they didn't. Obviously in a situation like that where it seemed like everybody in the world saw it, it's tough."

Payton said he spoke with league officials after the game who said there should have been two penalties on the play: a pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact.

"I hope no other team has to lose a game like we had to lose that one today," said Payton.

The Lutz field goal put the Saints ahead 23-20, but the Rams marched down and tied it on a 48-yard field goal by Zuerlein that sent the game into overtime.

"When a call goes your way or doesn't, you're on to the next play," said Brees. "You can't let it bother you. It had no bearing on overtime."

And while the missed call was the most talked about play of the postgame, there were some missed opportunities as well. 

On the Saints' overtime possession, Brees dropped back to pass but his arm was hit by Rams linebacker Dante Fowler, leading to an interception by John Johnson at the Rams 46.

Five plays later, Zuerlein lined up for the game-winning 57-yarder, 1 yard longer than a field goal he kicked against the Saints in the Dome in the regular season. The Saints won that one 45-35, handing the then-undefeated Rams their first loss this season. But the Rams won the one that mattered the most, sending them to Atlanta and sending the Saints home. 

The Saints (14-4) missed their share of opportunities early too, settling for a pair of field goals on their first two possessions. The second field goal came after a Demario Davis interception at the Rams 16-yard line.

"There were plenty of opportunities for us offensively that we didn't take advantage of," Brees said. 

The Saints went ahead 13-0 on the third drive when Brees connected with Garrett Griffin for a 5-yard score.

The Rams closed the gap to 13-10 by halftime, marching 81 yards late in the second quarter on a drive capped by Todd Gurley's 6-yard touchdown run. The game was back and forth the rest of the way. 

"We let them get close to us and had a 13-point lead," Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said. "To their credit, they fought the entire game and end up winning."

The Rams (15-3) will make their first trip to the Super Bowl since the 2001 season when the team was based in St. Louis. They will play the New England Patriots, who beat the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31 in overtime in Sunday's AFC title game. The Saints, meanwhile, were seeking their second trip to the big stage.

"It's disappointing," Payton said. "I was proud of these guys. It's been a great season, a great group of guys who have worked extremely hard. To come off a tough loss like we did last year and fight back and put ourselves right back in this position, right there inside the 10-yard line to go to the Super Bowl. I'm proud of every one of them."

But that doesn't make this one any easier.

"Credit the Rams," Payton said. "They made enough plays. But for a call like that not to be made, it's hard to swallow."

It's the second straight season the Saints ended their season with postseason heartbreak. This one stung even more than the Minneapolis Miracle last January.

"I'll carry this just like I carried the last playoff loss," Jordan said. "It'll be more motivation for the offseason. Pissed that we are already in the offseason."



Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.