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How missed calls have defined two NFC Championship games for NFC South rivals

Matt Ryan and Drew Brees are linked by the ghosts of whistles swallowed.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Of all the quarterbacks you wouldn’t expect to be thrust into the spotlight after Championship Sunday, Matt Ryan, captain of the 7-9 Atlanta Falcons, would have to be close to the top of the list. Shouldn’t we be focusing on the newly crowned Conference Champions: Tom Brady and Jared Goff?

Much will be said about Patrick Mahomes not touching the ball in overtime of the AFC Championship game and Drew Brees being stripped of a 1st-and-goal opportunity with less than 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game. Welcome to Ryan’s world, as the two highest rated passers of 2018 join him on the sofa for Super Bowl LIII.

‘Tis the season to beat dead horses, so I’ll touch on the obvious before explaining how Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees took a page out of Matt Ryan’s resume. A coin flip stripped the NFL’s touchdown pass leader (Mahomes, 50) of the opportunity to participate in overtime of the AFC Championship game. A non-call for intentional, head-to-head pass interference stripped the NFL’s highest rated passer (Brees, 115.7) of the opportunity to have a 1st-and-goal possession with under two minutes left in regulation of the NFC Championship game. (Editor’s Note: Good)

Bad calls happen in every NFL game and last Sunday was no different.

Some flags get thrown.

Others do not.

Saints fans have every right to be upset. Their team, in essence, won the NFC Championship in respects to on-field performance only to see their opponents walk off the field with both the George Halas trophy and a Super Bowl berth.

Technically, there’s no guarantee that the Saints would have successfully kneeled the ball three times and made the chip-shot field goal. But if we could turn back time and give Brees the 1st-and-goal opportunity New Orleans earned, their 99% chance of winning would have topped the Rams 1% chance of winning.

I get it though.

It was the Saints choice to pass the ball on 1st down following Ted Ginn’s 43-yard reception.

It was the Saints who, unlike the Chiefs, won their overtime coin toss and had first crack at the ending the game.

It was Brees who threw a game-changing interception in overtime and it was Michael Thomas who did absolutely nothing to prevent a very preventable turnover.

None of that changes the non-call for defensive pass interference/head-to-head contact. You can point to missed facemasks on both sides and other blown calls, sure. The unfortunate reality of imperfect officiating is that there’s no way to quantify what would have happened had the game been called correctly at every stage.

That said, nobody got screwed worse than the Saints. (Editor’s Note: Again, good)

Super Bowl LIII will be played in a city that can relate.

The ghosts of 2012

Flash back to Atlanta, late in the fourth quarter of the 2012 NFC Championship game: 49ers linebacker NaVorrow Bowman put his hands all over Falcons wide receiver Roddy White on a crucial fourth down play. Ryan’s pass was batted down, White threw his hands up in the air looking for a flag and as you might have expected—nothing happened.

It wasn’t as blatant as Robey-Coleman’s head-on collision, but…still.

“It’s the postseason, let them play.” —Idiot

I’m a believer that a penalty should be called the same whether it’s Week 1 of the preseason or Super Bowl Sunday. Gray areas are tough, but as we’ve seen in the past, officials seem to be more lenient when the season is on the line. Nobody wants to be booed in a sold out stadium.

Flags aren’t fun. Slowing down the game isn’t fun. But rewarding a player for breaking the rules by allowing him to do so isn’t fair either.

“Boo hoo, life isn’t fair. Stop whining and get over it.” —Idiot

Nearly two years ago, Twitter told me that Matt Ryan was to blame for the Falcons losing Super Bowl LI. Passer rating (144.1) was a joke, completion-percentage (73.9%) was for check-down specialists and YPA (12.4) was worthy of every laughing emoji known to man.

Bottom line was: Ryan took a sack, fumbled the football and allowed a 25-point lead to vanish.

#QBWINZ is more than a figure of speech, it’s the foundation used by many to determine the legacies of individual players in team sports.

When you win, every poor read, overthrown pass and interception can be excused while viewing the positive plays as signs of gritty clutch guts exhibited with everything on the line.

When you lose, every good read, tight window completion and touchdown can be chalked up to “nice box score numbers” while viewing the negative plays as signs of collapse and failure to handle the spotlight.

Such is life.

But imagine…

• Playing the season at an MVP level.

• Out-playing Tom Brady on the Championship stage.

• Losing an overtime coin toss.

• Watching your low-ranked scoring defense allow the opponent to drive the length of the field.

• Watching their running back cross the goal line to end your season.

• Never being given the opportunity to participate in overtime.

“You had the opportunity to win, all your defense had to do was stop them.” —Idiot

I’m not concerned with how often the coin toss winner ends up winning the game. That’s not the point. Providing one team with a scoring opportunity that isn’t provided to the other isn’t equal. Allowing an offensive and defensive unit on each side to sit out the overtime period isn’t equal either.

The “tweaked” overtime rules, providing an offensive possession to each team when anything less than a touchdown occurs on the first drive is an improvement, but doesn’t change the reality of the paragraph above. The rules are the rules and over the past three seasons alone, we’ve seen a Super Bowl and an AFC Championship game decided by them.

I don’t know what’s worse: Flawed rules determining Championships or non-called rule violations determining Championships?

If you’re Drew Brees—you got screwed.

If you’re Patrick Mahomes—you got a raw deal.

And if you’re Matt Ryan—you got a taste of both worlds, #MatrickBryan in a nutshell.

But unlike Brees and Mahomes, Ryan is not and has never been treated with the same respect. “We” (the collective masses) talked a little bit about overtime rules following Super Bowl LI, but most discussion died down, getting drowned within the nonsense that was “If you couldn’t hold a 28-3 lead, then you deserved to lose.”

Insert palm-to-face emoji.

While wins, banners and rings are much easier to remember than the many plays that went into earning them, simplifying history doesn’t do justice to the resumes of quarterbacks. As fans bicker, accusing one another of whining while transparently looking for reasons to discredit sensible gripes, allow me to propose a noble thought.

What if Ryan and Mahomes could have walked away Super Bowl/AFC Champions as Brady did, but because the rules are as they are, we’ll never know?

What if Ryan and Brees essentially won NFC Championships they’ll never get credit for and now, the 2012 Ravens and 2018 Patriots are champions?

Sorry Rams, I’m that certain.

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None of this changes the banners, the rings or the information posted on each quarterback’s Wikipedia page. But when discussing legacies and assigning value to “results”, don’t be the cashier.

Be wiser.

Follow Ryan Michael on Twitter: @theryanmichael