This is my last post about Thursdays game
ProFootballWeekly.com - Shorts and Shells: Week One
Controversial call of the week
In this week's edition, we look at two plays — one that affected the other — in the season opener. As the Saints drove down, trailing by eight points late in the third quarter, to the Packers' side of the field, their run game showed some life but also some diminishing returns. After Drew Brees hit Devery Henderson for 13 yards, four runs followed: Pierre Thomas for five yards, Darren Sproles for seven, Thomas for two and Mark Ingram for no gain.
I think the fact that Ingram was stoned on 3rd-and-1 from the Packers' seven-yard line spooked Saints head coach Sean Payton out of going to a power formation and running it on fourth down. Instead, he called for a sprint-out, and Brees was turned around and forced into a momentum-changing incompletion.
It didn't kill off their chances, though. The Saints got the ball back and drove, with the same-sized deficit, in the game's waning moments, earning an untimed play on 1st-and-goal: score or go home a loser. The formation was tight, and everyone in the stadium seemed to know a run was coming. It did — a straight-ahead power play — and about six Packers, led by Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett, shut Ingram down. The rookie had no chance.
Payton seemed to doubt himself after the previous failure with a pass on fourth down, and it's my assertion he carried that doubt into the final play call of the game. He spoke on the matter afterward.
"Hindsight, it's easy to say, 'Kick the field goal,' " Payton said. "But that being said, we felt like we had a play we wanted to run. But it didn't work. It's not an easy call, but it's one that you look back on and I'll kick myself a little bit."
The old knock on Payton — definitely before he won a Super Bowl, and a little bit more after last season's playoff disappointment — was that he often outsmarted himself. I remember being at a Saints game before they won it all and an NFL official from another team, sitting in the press box, muttered under his breath after Payton made a risky call that failed: "Smartest guy in the NFL."
The comment, naturally, was sarcastic. And though I don't think Payton was wrong to go for it on fourth down, I do think he erred in letting his one failure affect the next. This is an isolated incident. It didn't cost the Saints a win; the better team was victorious on Thursday night. I expect the Saints and Payton to be just fine.
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