They answered questions. They glimpsed highlights. They relived the misery that had been processed, cataloged, lodged away — and then, on a micro level, did so again on Sunday. With about six minutes left in the second quarter, Trey Hendrickson stripped the ball from Rams quarterback Jared Goff at the Saints’ 19-yard line. Cam Jordan scooped it up and ran it back for a touchdown — or so he thought.
The play had been blown dead as an incompletion, and so even though the Saints were granted possession after video review reversed the call to a fumble, they were given the ball at their own 13, where Jordan recovered the ball. Instead of taking the lead, they turned the ball over on downs, and the Rams, capitalizing on a short field, kicked a field goal to go up, 6-3, at halftime.
“The things we can control as coaches are the things that I just alluded to,” said Payton, referencing the Saints’ 11 penalties, poor running game (20 carries, 57 yards) and pressure allowed. “When we get poor officiating or an awful call like that, we can’t control that.”
It was Jordan who hinted of an officiating bias against the Saints after the N.F.C. championship game loss, acknowledging the team’s combative relationship with the league that dates to Bountygate, when members of the team’s coaching staff were determined to have rewarded players who injured opponents. Jordan again derided the officials on Sunday, comparing them to Foot Locker employees (who wear black-and-white striped shirts) and saying he never heard the whistle.
“I’m sure the N.F.L. will come out with some other statement about it,” Jordan said.
The non-call that afternoon last year in New Orleans was so egregious that — with the input of Payton, a member of the league’s competition committee — the rules were changed for this season, with coaches permitted to challenge an official’s judgment when pass interference isn’t called. (However tempted he might have been on Sunday, Payton did not challenge the first pass play.) By adding a subjective element to replay, that experiment has created problems while solving others, but it at least seeks to correct a wrong.
There is no mechanism in place to reverse what happened on Sunday, or in Week 1 when the Saints played Houston and should have had 15 additional seconds as they hurried to try to score before halftime. Wil Lutz missed a long field-goal attempt, but redeemed himself by making a longer one, the 58-yard game winner, as time expired.
With Teddy Bridgewater ineffective behind that struggling line in relief of Brees on Sunday, going 17 of 30 for 165 yards, Lutz supplied the Saints’ offense, kicking three field goals. The first two kept the score close, at 6-6, midway into the third quarter. The third came after Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks scored touchdowns on consecutive drives, taking a 20-6 lead that New Orleans never threatened.
Across the past 22 months, the Rams and the Saints have played four times — the Rams winning three — establishing a rivalry between two productive offenses coached by innovative masterminds named Sean. The Rams would love their coach, Sean McVay, and quarterback, Goff, to duplicate the success and longevity of Payton and Brees in New Orleans. The Saints, having won a Super Bowl and been deprived of a chance at a second, want good news about their star quarterback and a clean game already.