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New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (11) falls after a pass was broken up by Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman (23) in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019.

And you thought last year’s Saints playoff loss was painful.

That loss to the Vikings, the Minnesota Miracle, stung for sure.

But this loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday’s NFC championship game? This is this franchise’s heartbreaker of all time as the result of one of the most controversial no-calls of all time.

Rams 26, Saints 23 in overtime doesn’t begin to describe it. Not in the way it went down.

Let us review:

The Rams never led until Greg Zuerlein’s game winning 57-yard field goal sailed through the uprights (it would have been good from much longer). With 5:03 left in the fourth quarter, Zuerlein had tied it 20-20 with a 24-yard field goal. The Saints took over at their 30 and drove down to a third-and-10 at the Rams' 13-yard line after what looked like a championship-winning pass when Drew Brees went deep for 43 yards to Ted Ginn Jr.

Nickell Robey-Coleman and Gary Cavaletto. The names may be hard to remember, but what they did Sunday will never be forgotten in these parts.

Robey-Coleman slammed into Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis on the right sideline as Brees' pass came sailing in, but no flag came sailing out of side judge Cavaletto’s pocket. Not only did Robey-Coleman interfere with Lewis, he made helmet-to-helmet contact with him.

“I got up looking for a flag and didn’t see one,” Lewis said. “It was a bad call.”


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That isn’t just an opinion. That’s an admission. An admission by NFL officials in New York to Saints coach Sean Payton on a phone call immediately after the game.

“They blew the call,” a dour Payton said after the first home playoff loss of the Payton/Brees era. “It’s a game-changing call. I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass-interference call.”

Even Robey-Coleman, admirably, admitted he hit Lewis too early.

"I thought I was going to get flagged," he said. "I thought that would have been a flag and they would have scored on the next play."

A penalty, either pass interference or a personal foul for the helmet-to-helmet hit, would have given the Saints a first-and-goal just inside the 7 with about 1:45 left. Now, it must be said it is impossible to know what would have happened at that point. The Saints could have even turned the ball over. But what likely would have happened is that New Orleans would have run the clock down to about 15 seconds left to set up what would have been a 28-yard field goal by Wil Lutz (he made the one he had to kick from 31 yards).

According to Brian Burke of ESPN Analytics, such a scenario would have left the Saints with a 98 percent chance of winning and the Rams with a 2 percent chance of returning the kickoff or winning on some crazy Hail Mary.

So, well, thanks NFL. That really helps mend all those shattered Saints fans out there. It really helps soothe Ben Watson’s psyche, as he was held out with appendicitis Sunday after earlier announcing his retirement. It really helps Brees, now 40, who pretty much announced that he will return next season but does not have many seasons left.

Instead of New Orleans fans second-lining all the way to Atlanta and enjoying the sour looks of the locals as the Saints played in the ultimate game on the Falcons’ home field, the end of the season has turned into a jazz funeral with undertones of civil unrest. While I do not ever condone fans throwing things onto the field as they did Sunday, I dare the NFL to censure the Saints for that.

The only place where they may be remotely as close to unhappy as the folks are in Louisiana is St. Louis, where they supported a dog of a franchise for years until they shuffled back to Los Angeles in 2016.

Lost in the angst of “The No-Call” is the first quarter that was dominant by the Saints but could have been much more so.

The Saints took the opening drive down to the Rams 19 but had to settle for a field goal after tight end Dan Arnold got both hands on the ball despite double coverage but dropped it in the end zone. Then linebacker Demario Davis grabbed a tip-drill interception as Jared Goff’s pass glanced off Todd Gurley’s hands at the 16, remarkably similar to the pass last Sunday that went through Alshon Jeffery’s hands for an interception to seal the Saints’ divisional-round victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the Saints only got to the 10 and had to settle for another Lutz field goal. New Orleans finally scored a touchdown on its next drive to lead 13-0 going into the second quarter, but the Saints could have been up 21-0. At least 17-0.

“There were plenty of opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of,” Brees said.

The Saints also had plenty of opportunity to bleed more time off the clock after the long pass to Ginn with 1:58 left. The Saints had to burn a timeout with 1:55 remaining after Brees threw incomplete for Michael Thomas and only managed to take 17 seconds off the clock total by the time Lutz’s field goal sailed through the uprights with 1:41 left in the fourth. The Rams also had a timeout remaining to aid their game-tying drive.

Credit the Rams, who are only guilty of playing their hardest, like the Soviet basketball team that won that 1972 Olympic basketball final over the U.S. team when officials gave them three chances at the end.

But like that Soviet victory, this win will forever have an asterisk by it.

So will this otherwise brilliant season for the Saints.

“As we look back on 2018, it was a great year and a ton of great memories,” Brees said.

One memory, though, will drown out everything.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​