It is often said that most football games come down to just a half dozen plays.
The conference title games Sunday came down to fewer than that. Each game was decided by one play.
New Orleans would have beaten the Los Angeles Rams if the officials had called the Rams for pass interference. And Kansas City would have beaten New England if Dee Ford hadn’t lined up offsides.
And then we could have a KC-New Orleans Super Bowl.
And think of how many legacies were changed because of those two plays.
If New Orleans had gone to the Super Bowl, Sean Payton would be coaching in the game for the second time. If the Saints had won, he would have been one Super Bowl away from the Hall of Fame. Every coach who has won three or more is in the Hall.
Even two would get him in the conversation. Now he’s just another coach with one Super Bowl win, like Don McCafferty, Mike McCarthy, Mike Holmgren, Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll, John Harbaugh, Jon Gruden and Mike Ditka, who made it as a player.
Granted, Hank Stram and Tony Dungy made it with just one Super Bowl win, but they are the exception to the rule. Marv Levy and Bud Grant didn’t win one, but each went four times.
Meanwhile, if Ford hadn’t lined up offsides, Andy Reid would be going to his second Super Bowl and would have quieted the critics who note his playoff record, which is now 12-14.
And if the Rams had lost, it would have taken some of the luster off Sean McVay’s reputation as a head coach. He would be 1-2 as a playoff coach. Now he’s got a chance to win the Super Bowl in just his second season to continue the narrative that he’s the hottest young coach in the league.
And now that the Patriots won, Bill Belichick can become the first coach to win six Super Bowls, although he is already the first to win five.
Of course, it could be argued that the Saints and Chiefs shouldn’t have let their games come down to one play.
But they did, and their losses changed the legacies of their coaches. And that one play cost Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton his job. If Ford doesn’t line up offsides, Sutton would still be employed and preparing to coach in the Super Bowl.
Would he have kept his job if they had gone to the Super Bowl? We don’t know, but he might have despite Kansas City’s defensive problems.
It just goes to show the far-reaching impact that one play can have.