Thursday, August 5, 2010

Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints, November 26, 1989

I've gotta tell you, I am ready for some football. I know that training camps have opened up in the NFL and teams are preparing for their first preseason games, but I couldn't wait that long. I'm ready for some football right now. So with that in mind I watched a game from 1989 between then division rivals the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints, played at the Superdome on November 26, 1989. Coming into the game, the Rams were sitting at 7-4 while the Saints were at 6-5, and the winner of this game would have a huge advantage in the race for a wild card spot in the NFC. The Saints had beaten the Rams earlier in the year in Los Angeles, and to make matters worse, the Rams had only scored one touchdown in their last five games in the Superdome. What's more, the Rams' Henry Ellard, their All-Pro wide receiver, was ruled unable to play by the Rams' training staff due to a hamstring injury. With all that against them, the Rams turned to second-year wide receiver Willie "Flipper" Anderson to carry them to victory, and Flipper responded with perhaps the best game a receiver has ever had in the history of the NFL. In fact, ESPN recently named Flipper's performance on this night the second-best game a wide receiver has ever had (link here). The Rams would go on to win this game in overtime, 20-17, on a game winning field goal by Mike Lansford, the last barefoot kicker in the NFL. A few thoughts about this game:

- Flipper had the game of his life here, catching 15 passes for an NFL record 336 yards and a touchdown. What was remarkable about the game was that Anderson would constantly catch deep passes going for 30 or 40 yards time and time again. I don't think he had a catch longer than 46 yards in the game, but every catch he made seemed to go for at least 25 yards. Also, Anderson saved his best for the fourth quarter and overtime, as he caught nine passes for 195 yards and a touchdown in the later stages of the game. Interestingly enough, Anderson had come into this game with only 19 catches in 11 games, and did not have another game in 1989 where he caught more than four passes. For the season, Anderson ended up with 44 catches, so in one night Anderson had over a third of his overall production for that season.

- While Anderson was great, the rest of the Rams offense was not so great. QB Jim Everett may have thrown for 454 yards, but a lot of his balls were not thrown with a lot of skill and authority, and he had some trouble handling the Saints' pass rush. What annoyed me most about Everett is that on multiple occasion, Everett would dive onto the ground and lose yardage rather than hang in the pocket and take a chance either running or throwing. Everett also had this tendency in another game I reviewed. I don't want to question the man's toughness, since 1) I've never been in the pocket facing a pass rush in an NFL game, and 2) the Saints, led by LBs Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson, and DE Frank Warren were coming hard and fast on nearly every play, but it is an annoying tendency, nonetheless.

- Throughout the game, the announcers (ESPN's Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann) were constantly praising the Saints defense, who shut the Rams' running game down and sacked Everett six times and picked him off twice. While the Saints' D had some moments, it's hard to praise them when they let a wide receiver break off a record day. I will say that Pat Swilling was quite impressive in this game, constantly pressuring the quarterback and giving Rams LT Irv Pankey fits with his blinding speed. It's easy to forget, but Swilling was a heck of a pass rusher, racking up 107.5 sacks in his career. Swilling's fellow outside linebacker Rickey Jackson is about to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, and deservedly so, but maybe the HOF voters should take a closer look at Swilling next year. Swilling hasn't had a lot of HOF support, but he definitely deserves some consideration (as does his teammate, ILB Sam Mills, but that's a different story).
- It was a good news, bad news kind of night for Saints CB Robert Massey, then a rookie. The good news is that he had two interceptions. The bad news is that he was the man responsible for covering Anderson most of the night, and we know how that ended up. Not to mention that Massey committed a huge pass interference penalty in overtime which at that point saved the Rams from a 3rd and long situation deep in their own territory. The Rams seemed to be picking on Massey, especially early in the game, and while he made some good plays, eventually the Rams' strategy paid off.

- The Saints' quarterback, Bobby Hebert, had a decent game. But what struck me as interesting was that after every incompletion, Hebert would either yell at his receiver for not catching a ball and make angry faces, or if he was really angry, he would stop around on the ground or pump his fist in anger or make other dramatic gestures. Even if the pass was five feet over his receiver's head, Hebert would act as if it was the other guy's fault that the ball wasn't caught. On a couple of occasions, he would yell at his receivers for not catching a ball or running the wrong route or whatever, making a big show out of it. To me, that's just counter-productive, as it's not as if the other receivers are going to be more motivated or get better just because they don't want to get yelled at by their quarterback. If anything, it's just going to piss them off and eventually they'll either tune him out or snap back at him. Maybe I misconstrued the situation and Hebert was just angry at himself, but it did not look that way to me.

- Hebert may have had a right to be angry at one wide receiver, rookie Floyd Turner. Turner dropped three balls in the game, and each one was a play that could have completely changed the conception of the game. Early in the first quarter, Turner beat Rams CB Clifford Hicks deep and seemed to be on his way to a touchdown, but the ball went right through his hands. Then in the second quarter, Turner dropped a pass in the endzone after Rams S Vince Newsome knocked the ball loose on a big hit (although in his defense, if Hebert made a better throw and didn't lead Turner straight into Newsome, it would have been an easy touchdown, but that didn't stop Hebert from throwing a fit). Then later on, Turner dropped another deep ball that he should of had. If Turner catches two of those balls, than the Saints would probably go on to win easily, and their whole season could of turned out differently.

- Then again, the Saints did have a 17-3 lead late in the fourth quarter, as the Rams just could not stop shooting themselves in the foot with dumb penalties. It seemed like whenever the Rams got some momentum, somebody would either commit a false start or a holding penalty without fail. To be frank, the Rams really had no business winning this game, and the fact they did is mainly owed to the efforts of Anderson and the defense, which shut down the Saints for most of the second half, minus a big run and a touchdown pass from HB Dalton Hilliard, who threw the touchdown to Eric Martin to give the Saints a 17-3 lead in the third quarter.

- The officiating wasn't very good in this game, as the refs made two key calls against the Saints in the 2nd quarter. The first occurred after an interception from Robert Massey, who had returned it for a touchdown but later was ruled down by contact. Even though the idiots in the booth agreed with the officials, it did not look like to me that Massey had been touched. The second occurred after Swilling seemed to sack Jim Everett, but the refs ruled that Everett's arm was moving forward and therefore, it was an incomplete pass. Never mind that Swilling got to Everett before his arm was moving. The refs also called back a false start on the Rams due to "excessive crowd noise", a rule which was in place back in 1989 but has since been repealed. Also, both teams were called for intentional grounding (throwing the ball to avoid the sack) in plays which, by today's rules, would be perfectly legal because on both occasions, the quarterback was well outside the tackle box. Those weren't bad calls, I just found it interesting.

Overall, despite the best efforts of Mike Patrick, I found this game to be quite enjoyable, and it only served to further whet my appetite for some football. This was quite a fun game, with many big plays and great players, none of which were greater on this night than Flipper Anderson, who just went crazy on the Saints. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this or other posts, or ideas for future reviews or posts, than share them either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at

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