Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
NEW ORLEANS - Football is a lot like life in that if you don’t stay true to yourself a lot of the time you run into problems. The New Orleans Saints found this out the hard way in a heartbreaking 30-27 loss on the road to the New England Patriots.
After fighting back from a 10-point halftime deficit, the Saints had two separate chances to close the game out late with a first down and failed. Almost worse than the failures was the fact the Saints did something they almost never do under Sean Payton when they played safe conventional football and were not aggressive at all.
Sean Payton turned into Jim Mora and decided to put the game in the hands of Rob Ryan’s defense one too many times. Asking the Saints defense to stop Tom Brady three times in the last four minutes was the equivalent of leaving dinner on the table unattended and hoping your dog doesn’t eat it. It’s a doomed strategy.
You know who runs a naked bootleg to try and trick a team into a first down to clinch a game? Teams coached by Norv Turner or Mike Smith. The Saints under Sean Payton are about surprise onsides kicks in the Super Bowl, going for it on fourth down on their side of the field, and being hyper aggressive in critical game situations.
They aren’t a team that runs three times and punts the ball back to Tom Brady. Could Brees have thrown another third down incompletion on the Saints final series just like he did on the previous one? Absolutely, but at least they would have acted like the Sean Payton/Drew Brees Saints and gone down swinging.
The Saints went to New England and got no catches from Jimmy Graham, one catch from Marques Colston, Kenny Stills led them in receiving, Drew Brees only completed 17 of 36 throws, and they were two defensive stops from winning. If the 2011 or 2012 Saints had an offensive performance like this they’d have lost by 14. It’s good to know the Saints can face an elite team, not play great on offense, and still win.
Oh, and the Saints also nearly overcame atrocious officiating. The referees botched an off sides call that maybe cost the Saints three points, had questionable pass interference penalties, a phantom personal foul on Malcolm Jenkins, and missed Junior Galette getting held at least three times by my count. If we are lucky we won’t see officiating like this again for a long time. The officiating didn’t cost the Saints a win but winning in Foxboro is hard enough trying to beat one team much less two.
While the offense did get conservative and couldn’t close out the Patriots they did get the running game cranked up in the second half. The Saints had 131 yards on 26 carries and the rushing attack was the key factor in erasing the Patriot lead. Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson combined for 18 carries and 104 yards. The only negative thing about the running game was they couldn’t put the final nail in New England’s coffin. The Saints showed at the very least if teams want to focus everything on shutting down Graham and the passing game the Saints can run the football.
The second positive is the Saints defense is more than capable despite the late collapse. They sacked Brady five times, intercepted him once, and kept the Saints in the game during a first half where Bill Belichick was severely out coaching Sean Payton.
The Saints head into their bye week 5-1, have not lost an NFC game, and have a defense better than any of us could have imagined.
If I’d have told you in August Sean Payton would have so much confidence in his 2013 defense that he would bet on them to stop Tom Brady three times late in a game to win you’d have called me insane.
The only difference between the Saints on this Monday and last Monday is they aren’t going undefeated. Nothing has changed about what they can accomplish in 2013.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.