Do you remember the original Speed movie starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock?
Reeves starred as LAPD officer Jack Traven, a man called upon to rescue passengers on a public bus that had a bomb strapped to it. If the bus went below 50 MPH, it would explode. Intense action ensued in a heart-stopping thrill ride that was both a critical and commercial success.
A few years later, the sequel came out. Reeves reportedly didn't like the script for Speed 2, so he dropped out and was replaced by actor Jason Patric in the starring role. The movie was panned by critics and grossed less than half of the original at the box office.
The lesson here is that sometimes the sequel doesn't live up to the original, especially when the star does not return.
That was the case with the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in a highly anticipated rematch of the NFC Championship game from January.
Similar to the original Speed film, the first matchup between two of the best offenses in the NFC was a back-and-forth shootout filled with action, controversy, and plenty of drama.
The Rams won that game in overtime, 26-23, and advanced to their first Super Bowl since 2001. Despite the stunning upset inside the Superdome, the game was overshadowed by an egregious mistake by the referees on a blown pass interference call late in the fourth quarter.
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The Saints argued that a Super Bowl berth was stolen from them. The Rams were tired of hearing that their Super Bowl appearance was not earned, but gifted, by the men wearing black-and-white stripes.
Seven months later, the two teams would meet again with less on the line. The Rams were eager to prove that they could defeat the Saints without the benefit of a blown call. The Saints wanted revenge. What unfolded was far different than anyone expected.
Drew Brees, the Saints future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, exited the game with a right thumb injury in the first quarter, and the Rams went on to rout New Orleans, 27-9, in the first game of the newly renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The matchup of two of the top three scoring offenses in the NFL last season sputtered out of the gate. No touchdowns were scored in the first half, and another no-call by the referees stole points from the Saints.
Midway through the second quarter, with the game tied at 3-3, Jared Goff appeared to have been stripped by Saints' defensive end, Trey Hendrickson. Goff's fumble bounced into the arms of Cameron Jordan who returned it all the way to the end zone for a defensive touchdown.
However, referees whistled the play dead, believing that it was not a fumble, but an incomplete pass. The Saints challenged the play, and the call was reversed to a fumble. However, because the officials blew the play dead, the Saints touchdown was negated, and instead they took over possession on their own 13-yard-line.
"When we get poor officiating or we get an awful call like that, we can’t control that," said Saint's head coach Sean Payton. "Our focus this week is going to be on cleaning up the penalties and making sure we got the right guys on the field, too.”
The Rams would head into the locker room with a 6-3 lead, and ran away from New Orleans in the second half as the offense sputtered without Brees.
Brees had to leave the game for just the second time in his 14-year career with the Saints. Brees received x-rays after the game, and said he will see a hand specialist in Los Angeles on Monday. When asked if he was concerned about the injury moving forward, he was straightforward and to the point.
"Yeah, I am concerned," he said after the game. "I'm hoping it's not too significant."
Without their quarterback, the Saints won't have a lot of takeaways from their loss. They will hope Brees won't miss any significant time with the injury, and perhaps do a better job at trying to withhold the reigning two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald, from wreaking havoc on the field.
Donald was the one who hit Brees hand on the play that knocked him out of the game, and he added another quarterback hit and a tackle for loss later in the game.
"I just tried to get the ball, and I hit his hand. I was just trying to make a play," said Donald about the injury to Brees. "I felt like I showed improvement. I gotta keep getting better. I'm still not satisfied."
Meanwhile for the Rams, there's plenty of positives they can takeaway from their rematch with the Saints, but mostly there's relief that they won't have to hear about the blown pass interference call that helped send them to Super Bowl anymore.
"What happened last year, we've kind of moved past that," said LA Rams head coach Sean McVay after the win. "It's a new season, there's new challenges, and we'll enjoy this one and then get ready to see if we can find a way to get to 3-0."
First and foremost the Rams defense has struggled early in their previous three matchups with the Saints. New Orleans scored a combined 34 points in the first quarter against the Rams in their last three meetings.
With Brees on the field for the first 12 minutes of the game, the Rams shutout the Saints defense in the first quarter, and held them to just three field goals from there on out. It was just the fourth time in over thirteen seasons that the Saints did not score an offensive touchdown.
"Drew's obviously one of the greatest of all-time, and you go in there game planning for him," said Rams linebacker Clay Matthews. "When a guy like Teddy [Bridgewater] comes in, it affects our rush plan and how he's able to escape the pocket. I thought for the most part we held him in check. We didn't give up a touchdown, and that's tremendous against that offense."
Although it took a while to develop a rhythm, the Rams offense eventually got rolling and was able to put up three touchdowns on the Saints in the second half.
"It sometimes takes time," said Goff about the offense. "I think we scored six (points) in the first half and were able to come away with a 27-9 win, and you’re happy about it no matter what. I think every game is different and this game took us a little while to find it."
One player the Rams didn't have in the NFC title game was wide receiver Cooper Kupp, easily Goff's favorite target. Kupp made a difference for the Rams in the rematch on Sunday, leading L.A. with five catches for 120 yards.
"Just to be able to play this game again is a blessing," said Kupp. "All the glory to God. being able to come back and when you go through this adversity. To have the team around me that I did. To have the guys in this locker room encouraging me day in and day out. Going through the recovery is a grind. But when you’re coming into work each day and you’ve got these kind of guys to come in and encourage you, it makes things much easier."
Kupp made the play of the game with a 67-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter that broke the game open after Goff called his own number for a rushing touchdown on the very next play.
Fans of the two most prolific offenses in the league will certainly be disappointed by the lack of points put up in the rematch without Brees on the field, but if the two teams were to meet again in the NFC Championship expect to see plenty of fireworks the second time around.