Monday, October 14, 2013

When fight-or-flight fails, Patriots have already won

Yesterday's heartbreaking loss by the Saints to the Patriots was yet another reminder that I process heartbreak and disappointment the same way — anger at the karmic gods.

In a way, this was the worst way for the Saints to lose. Had the final score been 56-7, there would have been time to process it. As it was, I was already bracing for a potential loss, even though the Pats looked very vulnerable the week before. But it became clear quickly that the New England defense was out to shut down Jimmy Graham completely, and they did. Sean Payton should have seen that coming. And should have done something about it, but couldn't or didn't. On defense, Rob Ryan's usual adaptability was stymied by Tom Brady's hurry-up offensive scheme. In both cases, neither coach had a solution for what should have been an obvious contingency, and that's frustrating to watch.

Also, the officials seemed to be Patriots fans — at least until they started giving the Saints some shady breaks too, so maybe they just like corruption. 

Still, the Saints admirably overcame those deficiencies. Almost.

If the late rally by New Orleans had come up just short, I would have been upset, but proud of them nonetheless for climbing out of the hole. 

Even the last-second Hail Mary isn't unheard of. If it takes that play to win, one the Patriots are capable of making, the game had to be tight, which is something to celebrate.

What makes this one hurt so bad is the false hope of assured victory that was dashed, not just by Brady's bomb to Kenbrell Thompkins, but by the head-slapping stupidity that led to that play being possible.

The Saints caught three lucky breaks at the end, each time leading me to think, "This is over. Never say never, but this is under control." I was due to go into work, had everything in my pockets and my coat in my hand, ready to bolt as soon as I knew for sure. My duty yesterday was editing the sports section. That's always fun after the Saints win.

Then Sean Payton turned into Jim Mora.

Conservative play-calling has its place. But like with political conservatism (which also reared one of its uglier heads yesterday), it's a disaster at the wrong moment, and in the wrong hands.

Those wrong hands were Payton's. Being an aggressive gambler is his thing. And like most high-rollers, he's good enough at it to offset the risks. So it was absolutely stupefying to see him call some very conservative runs when the Saints needed to pound through the line, get one first down and go home happy. 

I hate those plays to begin with, so to see them contribute to the most heartbreaking, last-second loss since the River City Relay extra-point fail in 2003 (or even Tim Couch's Hail Mary by the Browns in 1999) is not just sad. It's mad.

The difference between now and past years is, the Saints know better by now.

Here's hoping they get back on track after the bye. I trust they will.

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