No game had as much riding on it this week as Sunday’s matchup between the Saints and Rams, two of the NFC’s best teams. The Rams were looking to rebound from a road loss to the Vikings last week, and the Saints were looking for their ninth straight win.
It looked like the Saints might pull off another late-game miracle comeback like they did against Washington. That didn’t happen, and a big share of the blame for that rests with head coach Sean Payton’s decision to kick a field goal in the fourth quarter instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal from the Rams’ 3-yard line.
New Orleans was trailing 23-10 in the fourth quarter, and the Saints had a chance to draw within one possession of the Rams.
Alvin Kamara came up big on the drive. He slipped out of a tackle and hurdled a defender for a 17-yard gain, and then Brees hit him for 33 yards to get into the red zone.
Two plays later, Drew Brees hit Mark Ingram with a 3-yard pass for a touchdown. But the score was called back for an offensive pass interference penalty against Michael Hoomanawanui. Brees threw short on third down from the Rams’ 4-yard line. That made it fourth down.
With just three yards to hit pay dirt and the Saints finally past their struggles moving the ball, and with an offensive cast featuring none other than Drew Brees and the two most productive running backs in the league, Kamara and Mark Ingram, it made sense to go for the touchdown.
Sean Payton opted to take the points and kick a field goal instead.
Even with the three points, it was still a two-possession game for the Saints, whereas a touchdown would’ve cut that gap, making a comeback with 10 minutes to go still possible.
Making the field goal actually decreased the Saints’ win probability.
Why would Saints kick there? Lost 2% WP with a made field goal pic.twitter.com/e3ALWo9uoB— Keith Goldner (@keithgoldner) November 27, 2017
And just in case you weren’t convinced that it was a bad decision, maybe Tony Romo can convince you. Even he was shocked by Payton’s decision.
It ended up haunting the Saints. Brees did work some late-game magic. With 1:45 remaining in the game, Brees hit Kamara for a 15-yard touchdown on a free play to pull within six points of Los Angeles. But it wasn’t enough for the Saints to get the win.
The Saints have been sitting on top of the NFC South, but the loss to the Rams puts them even with the Panthers at 8-3. The Falcons are riding a three-game winning streak and are sitting just one game behind the Panthers and Saints at 7-4.
New Orleans is far from a lock to win the division. And in such a tight NFC race, the loss to the Rams could end up spelling disaster for the Saints’ playoff hopes.