Rams (and refs) beat the Saints in OT

The good, bad and ugly of the NFC Championship game

Rams website

These teams combined for 80 points in their week nine matchup. They combined to score a bit more than half of that amount this time as the Rams are onto Atlanta courtesy of a 26-23 overtime shocker. Here's how I saw it:

The Good

-Both Seans showed their penchant for gambling in the first quarter. Saints' Payton drew the Rams offsides on 4th & 2; Rams' McVey faked a punt for a passing first down. This was a matchup of two highly innovative offensive play callers: one the proven vet, the other a prodigy. The defensive coordinator matchup (Dennis Allen of the Saints and Wade Phillips of the Rams) was fun to watch as well.

-Saints running back Alvin Kamara was a matchup nightmare. Drew Brees found him 11 times for 96 yards. He routinely made the Rams defense look bad no matter how they tried to defend him. Prime example was the wheel route he caught for a 21-yard gain.

-Rams quarterback Goff outdueled Brees when it counted most. He was able to make several plays in the fourth quarter and overtime. His throw on 2nd down when he was in the grasp of Cam Jordan to gain yards was clutch. It put them within field goal range and ultimately won the game for them.

The Bad

-Saints tight end Dan Arnold dropped a touchdown pass in the first quarter. Brees put it on the money with two defenders nearby. Arnold caught it and dropped it as he was falling to the ground. It forced a field goal try. Four points can make a huge difference in games like these.

-Rams didn't force a Saints punt until midway through the second quarter. The Saints couldn't convert a couple possessions into touchdowns, but were able to maintain a two score lead. The Rams put themselves behind the eightball early again.

-The Saints offensive line couldn't keep Brees clean enough all game. He was sacked twice and was forced into throwing a crushing interception in overtime. Left guard Andrus Peat played through a broken hand that he just had surgery to correct two weeks ago. The Rams pass rush exposed this line's deficiencies.

The Ugly

-Rams linebacker Cory Litteton gave Saints tight end Josh Hill a forearm shiver to the head in the first quarter. Hill went out under concussion protocol, but there was no flag on Littleton. Saints were already without Benjamin Watson at tight end.

-Rams running back Todd Gurley must still be injured. His play has been limited the last few weeks. When he has played, he hasn't made an impact. He dropped a pass that Saints linebacker Demario Davis intercepted and led to a field goal. Another dropped pass would've been a for sure first down, if not a touchdown, and forced the Rams to kick a field goal.

-The refs missed several calls, but what's new. Saints defensive end Cam Jordan appeared to have horse collared Rams Quarterback Jared Goff. Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly held Saints wideout Tedd Ginn Jr on a third down incompletion. But the missed pass interference call against Robey-Coleman on Tommylee Lewis was blatant!

Another NFC Championship game in New Orleans and another overtime thriller. The Saints had the game in their hands, only to have it taken away from them. A lot will be made of the non-call on the third down that caused them to kick a field goal with 1:45 left and not ice the game on that field goal with no time left. The Rams are now on to Atlanta and Sean McVey is on his way to becoming the youngest head coach to possibly win a Super Bowl.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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