Given the situation, it was perhaps the most surprising aggressive call that the Rams have made all year.
With the score of Sunday's eventual loss to the Saints tied at 14 in the second quarter, outside linebacker Samson Ebukam ripped the ball out of running back Mark Ingram's grasp with defensive tackle Aaron Donald recovering the pigskin to give Los Angeles an extra possession deep in New Orleans territory.
But the Saints defense tightened up with the sudden change, forcing a pair of incompletion by quarterback Jared Goff before a six-yard screen to wideout Brandin Cooks gave the Rams 4th-and-4 from the New Orleans 16.
Head coach Sean McVay and special teams coordinator John Fassel sent out kicker Greg Zuerlein to ostensibly kick a 34-yard field goal, which would've given L.A. a 17-14 lead. But when punter/holder Johnny Hekker fielded Jake McQuaide's long snap, he stood up, and began rolling to his right. Tight end Tyler Higbee was running a route on the right side of the field, but New Orleans third-string, do-it-all quarterback Taysom Hill had Higbee covered.
So, Hekker did the only thing he could do: run for the first down marker on the right side. With defenders chasing, he extended the ball as he was going down near the New Orleans 12 — and with the extension it initially looked like Hekker had the distance for a critical first down. But the officials spotted the ball short of the line to gain.
"I popped up — I was pretty pumped up, I thought I had it," Hekker said postgame. "I reached out the ball, thought I was well past the marker when I was down. I don't run the ball very often so I'm not really sure how long my arms are and that stuff. But coaches made a great call, went for the fake. And I thought we had it."
Hekker said he voiced his displeasure with the spot to the officials, who came back with, "Well, you can challenge it."
That's exactly what McVay did, but there was apparently not enough evidence to overturn the call — as the ruling on the field stood.
"I think they really wanted us to challenge it and use the film to back it up and come up with a conclusive answer on it, and they weren't able to," Hekker said.
That was a crucial point in the game, as New Orleans was then able to rip off 21 straight points in the second quarter to take a commanding 35-14 lead. And while Los Angeles was able to tie the game at 35 in the fourth quarter, the failed fake was certainly consequential.
"It's a difficult turn of events for them to get the ball and then go down and score," Hekker said. "But, you know, the spot was where they put it, and if they didn't have enough evidence to overturn it, then you've got to ride with the process. That's football, the NFL for everybody."
Still, the game was tied at that point in the contest and a made field goal would have at least given Los Angeles a lead — if only a slim one. So why go for it in the first place?
"We always talk about it, we are an aggressive attacking-type team, and if we feel like some of these looks present themselves to try to do that, we have confidence in our players," McVay said. "Unfortunately, it didn't work out in that situation, but we came into this came feeling like we needed to be aggressive, we wanted to be aggressive — that kind of embodies the identity that we do have. It didn't work out today, but that's not going to stop of from continuing to fight and make sure that we are making aggressive decisions that are also smart. Based on the look, we have a lot of confidence in Johnny Hekker and we feel like more time than not, he's going to make that play for us."
And that attitude is something the players have embraced — and not just the ones on the special teams unit.
"I love it and I think he got it, so we'll see," Goff said postgame. "I haven't seen the replay yet, but I think it was close."
"We're just a team that likes to put pressure on other teams," Hekker said. "We're not gonna wait for just the right moment — made an aggressive call and just run with it. I think it's just our coaching staff and the confidence they have in our preparation during the week. Our guys work their butt off, and our attention to detail is great."