The Rams rolled the dice Sunday, and the gamble backfired.
In their punch-for-punch, touchdown-for-touchdown showdown with the New Orleans Saints, the Rams came up just short on a fake field goal, a key moment in their 45-35 defeat. It turned out to be a 10-point swing, because not only did the Rams not kick a field goal, but also the Saints took over and assembled a touchdown drive.
But did Johnny Hekker actually come up short?
He was the holder on the fake, picking up the ball on fourth-and-four from the New Orleans 16, sprinting to beat a defender to the edge, and extending his 6-foot-5 frame for the first-down marker as he dived out of bounds. He even switched the ball to his left hand so he could reach farther.
The official gave him three yards, not four.
“I thought I did what I could to reach out past the yard marker that I saw,” he said. “It’s up to the refs to make that call. It’s a difficult decision once they put the ball there, and the ref said, ‘Hey, you can challenge it.’ It is what it is, but I have to do a better job of making the extra effort.”
Two aspects of the play worth noting: Officials didn’t use replay to fine-tune the spot, instead leaving the ball in precisely the same position, and the official who spotted the ball was trailing Hekker, which isn’t the ideal vantage in a game of inches.
Mike Pereira, officiating expert for Fox, was at the game and said it appeared to him that Hekker got the first down. Pereira later elaborated by phone.
“You look at where the knee was down, and then he extended his arm straight forward, and I felt like there would be enough to reverse the call,” he said. “But from the sidelines they very seldom do get overturned. Unless you have a shot that’s right down the line — which you’re not going to get in plays like that as a rule — it’s hard to tell where the ball is at the exact point that it crosses the sideline. That’s the hardest part.”
Pereira said that’s one of the most difficult places on the field to get a dead-perfect spot.
“If there’s a ball in the middle of the field and you’re on the sideline looking in to the middle of the field, pretty easy,” he said. “When it’s a ball across the sideline, you’re never on that line. You’re trailing the play. That’s the mechanics, so it’s really a hard spot to get. Nine out of 10 times, it’s never perfect.
“To me, that should have been a first down. But maybe they were right from the standpoint of not having enough to overturn it.”
Hekker was disappointed, but mostly in himself.