FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dressed in his Saints-issued black track suit, Jabari Greer stepped away from his locker in the heart of Gillette Stadium on Sunday, less than 60 minutes after the game ended.
Immediately surrounded by reporters and cameras, he paused to gather himself – “hold on one second,” he said – knowing full well what was about to come his way.
“OK, no,” he said. “Let’s go. Let’s do it.”
And then he stood there for nearly 10 minutes, answering every single question about giving up the game-winning touchdown with five seconds to play in New Orleans’ heartbreaking 30-27 loss to the Patriots.
“This doesn’t define me as a person, define me as a football player,” Greer said. “But you have to take it. You have to humble yourself and realize that it happened but know that I’m capable of making that next time.”
Indeed, as that play won't define Greer, it also won't define the Saints (5-1).
In fact – and this will sound a bit strange because they lost – New Orleans should arrive home and feel that there were as many positives as negatives in the end.
After giving up 17 points and 232 yards of offense in the first half, the defense adjusted and allowed just 74 yards until the fateful final 70-yard drive.
They sacked Tom Brady five times and allowed just 33 percent of the third-downs they faced to be converted.
The offense, held to just seven points and 130 yards in the first half, rang up 231 yards and put up 20 points in the final 30 minutes.
Behind rookie Khiry Robinson (seven carries, 53 yards) and Pierre Thomas (11 carries, 51 yards), the Saints running game returned, finishing with 131 yards.
Sure, there were negatives. Plenty of them.
Tight end Jimmy Graham was held without a catch for the first time since October of his rookie season, a span of more than 36 months. Receiver Marques Colston was all but non-existent, catching just one pass in the game.
Quarterback Drew Brees completed only 47 percent of his passes, and for the first time in 58 games, didn’t connect on at least 20 passes, snapping his NFL record.
Still, they were a broken up pass play from winning in spite of all of that.
A loss like Sunday’s can stick to the bones, can linger around. That’s why Sean Payton’s message to the team after trudging, heads down, off the field was that they can’t allow this loss to bleed over to the next game.
“Don’t let this loss beat us twice,” fullback Jed Collins recalled Payton saying. “Again, understand what we did wrong. Understand there’s going to be some good.”
“We can’t let the frustration of this game lead over to Buffalo,” added linebacker/end Junior Galette. “You let it become a pattern if we’re still thinking about this game. It’s one game. It’s one game.’
For Greer, who until recently appeared to be back to his 2009 form, it can only be play, let alone one game. If anyone on this team is going to take it hard, it’s going to be Greer, one of the deepest, most intellectually-driven players on the team.
“I think as a player, if you allow a big play to happen, especially at a crucial situation, it’s easy to lose confidence,” he said. “It’s easy to allow that to permeate into your play, to re-live that over and over again. This is such a mental game that you have to be able to – it challenges your resilience.”
But listen closely to Greer, Collins, Galette and others in the locker room and you hear, through the bitter tone, that their thoughts Sunday were positive, maybe amazingly so considering how the game ended.
“I don’t feel like we took a step backward,” Galette said. “It sounds crazy, but I think we took a step forward today. We know who we are as a team.”
“The bye week, it woulda been a lot nicer and more enjoyable to go in with a win,” Collins added. “But 5-1 is a pretty good start to this season. We know this team is special.”
They’re also humble again, and that’s a dangerous thought for the rest of the league.