BATON ROUGE — This was the completed tweet just waiting to be sent last Sunday night:
“Case Closed. Saints beat Vikings, 24-23. I’ll see you in Philly.”
And there was another one on deck:
“Happy 39th Birthday a day early, Drew Brees.”
Neither will ever be sent.
Or blame my wife … please.
During the third quarter with the Saints still down 17-0, she exited the living room to go to the back.
“The Saints never win when I’m watching,” she said.
And the Saints started winning. I walked back and reported the Saints’ 21-20 lead with 3:01 to go on another perfect Drew Brees touchdown pass — 14 yards to Alvin Kamara. Then I reported Minnesota going back up 23-21 with 1:29 left on a 53-yard field goal by Kai Forbath. And I hurried back with the news of Wil Lutz’ 43-yard field goal for the Saints’ 24-23 lead with 25 seconds to go.
And then, she decided to re-enter the living room!
The play-by-play reads coldly:
TD. 0:00. Stefon Diggs 61 yd pass by Case Keenum (4 plays, 75 yds, 00:25) 24-29.
Next next thing I heard in my head was the song I happened to play in my car the night before — “Backstreets” by Bruce Springsteen:
“At night sometimes, it seemed you could hear the whole damn city crying.”
Yes, the man whose version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” — first played by him at his first Jazz Fest on April 30, 2006 — ended the NFL Films special, “America’s Game: 2009 New Orleans Saints,” on the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV win on Feb. 7, 2010, had come back to haunt.
Thanks, Bruce. Blame him, too.
And I still hear New Orleans crying. I’d heard that before on the night of Jan. 3, 1993, when the Saints blew a 20-7 lead in the third quarter and lost, 36-20, to Philadelphia in a home Wild Card playoff. But that hex was beaten in 2000 with New Orleans’ first playoff win, in 2006 with its first NFC title game and then, finally, on 2/7/10 when everybody marched into heaven briefly.
But now, the XLIVoodoo remains. First the Vicodin Scandal, then Marshawn Lynch and 7-9 Seattle, then Bounty Gate, then Seattle again in 2013 and the trilogy of 7-9.
Blame whomever or whatever you want. Just don’t credit Minnesota. Any transfer of blame will make as much sense as the Vikings winning that game last Sunday.
Of all the disastrous Saints’ losses on a single play, this was the worst.
►There was the 57-yard “Big Ben” (beat the clock) touchdown pass from Atlanta’s Steve Bartkowski to Alfred Jackson in the final seconds for a 20-17 win on Nov. 12, 1978, in the Superdome. Bartkowski and Ben struck again two weeks later in Atlanta as the Saints were guilty of pass interference, setting up a short game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds for another 20-17 Atlanta win. The twin killing kept the Saints at home at 7-9 instead of at 9-7 and in the playoffs for the first time.
►The 26-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at home on Dec. 18, 1983, on a 42-yard field goal by Mike Lansford with six seconds to go blocked the Saints from their first winning season at 9-7 and first playoff berth. It would have been at Dallas.
►The 36-32 loss at San Francisco on Jan. 14, 2012, on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis with 14 seconds to go kept New Orleans from hosting the New York Giants the next week in the NFC title game. A win there would have put the Saints in another Super Bowl. And the Saints owned the Giants in the dome at the time with 48-27 and 49-24 regular season wins in 2009 and ’11.
That loss to San Francisco remains the most significant loss in Saints’ history because of what a win would have meant — a very likely second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons. And it would have been against New England, which lost to the Giants, 21-17.
But what sets this disaster of Sunday's game apart is the fact that the other team did little on the game-winning play. Usually when a team loses on long pass — Hail Mary, Big Ben or otherwise — the offensive team is trying to throw a touchdown pass. This is how the Saints lost to San Francisco six years ago and at Tampa Bay on Dec. 31.
But Keenum was not even trying to throw a touchdown. He was trying to complete a pass to Diggs so Diggs could get out of bounds for a field goal. And he got incredibly lucky. That’s all there is to it.
If a winning quarterback is running off the field saying, “Oh my God,” with his hands on his head the way Keenum was, it’s more like he won the lottery than he won the game.
If Saints safety Marcus Williams just holds back a beat and tackles Diggs inbounds, the game is over. Williams is a safety, so by definition, he is supposed to stay back, particularly when there are three players in front of him in his immediate vision — if he had his head up and eyes open. Particularly in that game situation. He doesn’t need to break up the pass. He just needs to tackle the receiver in bounds.
The most ridiculous explanation — worse than blaming even Springsteen or my wife — is saying he avoided contact because of the picky way pass interference has been called in recent years. What? I heard this nationally and locally from normally smart people. And it’s completely wrong. A normally very good player made a very bad play. And that’s it.
If you want to transfer the blame, blame it on voodoo because Williams looked like he had an out-of-body experience for the ages. He looked like he was performing a patented Deion Sanders’ phantom tackle. He looked like he had no idea where he was with no sense of place or time. This is unbelievable because he is a very good player and a had outstanding rookie season. Without his interception late in the third quarter that set up a Saints’ touchdown to get within 17-14, New Orleans might not have even had a chance.
All we can hope for is that Minnesota loses Sunday night at Philadelphia. That would be fair. Because if the Vikings win, we’ll see that play more and more leading up to the Super Bowl. It will never exit New Orleans’ neurosis, but it could gradually fade away if the Vikings fade away and the Saints soar.
Either way, though, the Saints will not fade away. Nor will Marcus Williams. He showed much mettle after the game. He’ll be back.
The Voodoo is always there, but the Saints are back.
Sean Payton’s back from what could’ve been the dead at other places.
Drew Brees was never gone. He’s just getting better. He replaces receivers and tight ends like Joe Namath replaced girlfriends. And remember, Brees never had a strong arm. He has two great years left, and I’ve said that for the last four.
The Saints have their best running game since Payton became coach in 2006. The Saints offense shredded the NFL’s best defense in the second half last week on the road.
The Saints have their best defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, and defense since Gregg Williams’ units from 2009-11. And they lost half a dozen of the starters throughout this season to injury.
The Saints are drafting and tapping free agency again like they’re no longer on Vicodin. The team is young again, and the dead money is gone. It went over to LSU.
The party’s over for this season. There is no game today. Rouses will not be jumping. But the Saints exorcised 7-9 and then some this season. They’re back.
“The way we battled back, it would’ve been one for the ages,” Brees said.
There’ll be more for the ages. You’re not even 40.
We will all tweet again.
The future’s so bright … just wear some garlic next time.