Da Boot Sports
Article courtesy of Crescent City Sports
By: Les East
NEW ORLEANS – Sean Payton wasn’t going to be deterred.
He and his New Orleans Saints were facing Tom Brady and the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
The Saints were 4-2 and the Bucs were 6-1 and New Orleans’ hope of winning a fifth consecutive division title were going to be dramatically affected by the game’s outcome.
Sure it was Halloween in the Caesars Superdome and it was going to be loud. That helps, but that only goes so far.
The coaches and players were going to have to do the heavy lifting.
Payton’s calculation was simple: a really aggressive Saints team was going to have a much better chance than a cautious Saints team.
“Everything about today’s approach was going to be super, super aggressive,” Payton said afterward.
Payton’s nature is to be aggressive, “super aggressive” when he believes it’s appropriate, even periodically “overly aggressive” as critics would describe it.
Facing the most successful quarterback in NFL history and the reigning Super Bowl champions who ended the Saints’ 2020 season in January led Payton to be willing to err on the side of boldness.
In the end whether he was super aggressive or overly aggressive was subjective, but what wasn’t subjective was the fact that the Saints won 36-27.
Payton, who once turned a Super Bowl in his team’s favor by starting the second half with an onside kickoff, embraced his first opportunity to be super aggressive Sunday.
On the Saints’ first possession they faced a fourth and one at their 44 and Payton chose to go for the first down rather than punt. The Bucs stopped Alvin Kamara short and four plays later Brady was throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin.
One man’s super-aggression is another man’s over-aggression.
Payton’s players were less fazed than Payton’s critics and on the ensuing possession they drove 75 yards, the last 16 of which came on a tying touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to Tre’Quan Smith.
Then early in the second quarter Winston was lost for the rest of the game – and probably much longer – to a knee injury. After the game Payton didn’t want to provide specifics before having a more thorough briefing from the medical staff, but he did say that he thought the injury was “significant.”
So Payton had no choice but to place the Saints offense in the hands of Trevor Siemian.
Everyone in the Superdome and watching on television had to be wondering where the Saints offense was going to come from or even if they were going to have a viable offense in Winston’s absence.
Winston’s teammates, especially those on defense, immediately recognized that overcoming Winston’s absence didn’t rest solely with Siemian but rather with everyone who played.
On the Bucs’ first possession after Winston’s departure, Brady drove them to the Saints 31. But on third and six, Cameron Jordan sacked Brady and caused a fumble that David Onyemata, making his season debut after a six-game suspension, recovered.
Siemian led the Saints to a Brian Johnson’s field goal and the defense rose up again as C.J. Gardner-Johnson intercepted Brady and returned the ball to the Tampa Bay 35.
On third-and-goal from the one, Siemian threw a touchdown pass to Alex Armah and the Saints had an improbable 16-7 halftime lead.
Payton said the Saints spent less time during the break dealing with the change at quarterback than they did with the Bucs’ defensive approach being different from what they expected.
The Saints received the second-half kickoff and Siemian drove them 75 yards to the Bucs’ one. Facing a fourth down, Payton didn’t hesitate to go for the score and Kamara secured a tricky pitch and waltzed into the end zone.
Payton said that “a good trait” Siemian has is that he’s “pretty calm.”
Quickly things got less calm as Brady led Tampa Bay on consecutive touchdown drives that reduced the Saints lead to 23-21 at the end of the third quarter.
Suddenly the Dome felt as it did on December 30, 2000.
Wild-card playoff against another reigning Super Bowl champion – the St. Louis Rams.
Saints led 31-7 early in the fourth quarter, then 31-28 late in the fourth quarter. They punted back to the Rams, and a really nervous crowd awaited a return to the field by a really tired Saints defense.
Then Az-Zahir Hakim fumbled a punt (“Hakim drops the ball”), Brian Milne secured the football for the home team and another backup quarterback who had been thrust into a starter’s role by injury (Aaron Brooks) kneeled out the franchise’s first playoff victory ever.
This less historic, but the result was the same.
After an exchange of punts, Siemian and the Saints offense cobbled together a 50-yard drive that produced Johnson’s 35-yard field goal and an only slightly less uncomfortable five-point lead.
Brady quickly answered with a 50-yard yard to pass to Cyril Grayson, a Rummel High, LSU and Saints alum, for the Bucs’ first lead (27-26) since the first quarter with less than six minutes remaining.
With the Saints in desperate need of a points-producing drive, their super-aggressive head coach didn’t shy away from letting Siemian throw the ball. Siemian responded with four completions for 34 yards and a first-and-goal at the nine as the two-minute warning arrived.
Then Siemian threw two incompletions before hitting Kamara for a four-yard gain. That sequence took just 19 seconds off the clock and left Brady with plenty of time needing just a field-goal drive after Johnson’s 23-yard kick gave the Saints a precarious 29-27 edge.
Payton, naturally, was asked after the game about not running the ball once or twice to force the Bucs to use more than one timeout or lose precious seconds.
“Obviously, I don’t want to throw an incomplete pass,” he said.
It was a tricky calculation.
Of course you want to leave Brady as little time as possible. But you also want to put him in the position of needing a touchdown instead of a field goal, which would require more time.
“I’m thinking score,” Payton said.
Payton added that the “perfect scenario” would be to score a touchdown and use up as much time as possible.
“That’s easier said than done,” he said.
After the kickoff Brady 101 seconds and one timeout to work with.
After one incompletion, P.J. Williams picked off Brady and ran 40 yards for a clinching touchdown.
Perhaps Williams saved Payton from his excessive aggressiveness.
Or perhaps the head coach’s chronic aggressiveness has produced a team that thrives in challenging circumstances such as Sunday’s.