Sean Payton lost his nerve on Saints’ last chance

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Saints coach Sean Payton is known as one of the boldest play callers in the NFL, a coach who runs a creative offensive system and isn’t afraid to take chances.

So what was he doing on the last play of the Saints’ loss to the Packers?

After a pass interference penalty set the Saints up with one more chance from the 1-yard line, with no time left on the clock, Payton had one play to call to give the Saints a shot at sending the game into overtime. And what did he call? The most obvious play you could imagine from the 1-yard line: A handoff up the middle to Mark Ingram.

The Packers’ defense saw the play coming a mile away, stuffed it, and celebrated their opening night victory.

Why not fake a handoff up the middle, have Drew Brees roll out and give him the option of passing to the tight end or running it into the end zone himself? Why not spread your wide receivers wide and force the Packers’ defense to spread out? If you’re going to run, why not a draw play for Darren Sproles?

Payton — the man who wasn’t afraid to call an onside kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl — decided to go with the plainest, most conventional call in his playbook with no time left. It didn’t make any sense.

And with that, the Saints are 0-1.

137 responses to “Sean Payton lost his nerve on Saints’ last chance

  1. I agree, they already were stuffed once on 4th and short and weren’t even close. Trying again is just crazy. I’d say why not go to the shotgun and maybe Brees has a chance to run it in himself, but when your line can’t match up there is no point in the halfback plunge.

  2. Didn’t you just answer your own question? Sounds like he ran the “plainest, most conventional call” because that was the last thing people would expect. It didn’t work obviously, but there’s no guarantee any other call would have.

  3. Terrible call… But I also thought AJ Hawk just made a tremendous play before hand (On the pass interference call) didn’t see how it was pass interference, but at least they still won, and it wasn’t a questionable ending to a game….

    None the less… What a bad ass way to open the season….

  4. Hindsight makes everyone look like a genius …..

    However, the Saints were fortunate just to have a chance at the end ……. Their ‘D’ is horrendous & may mean a non-playoff season of about 9-7 …..

  5. McCarthy ought to recognize that he has a future HOF QB and let him play. Slocum needs to be replaced. The inability of coaches to challenge plays within two minutes needs to be obliterated. That interference call against A.J. Hawk was bs.

  6. Just because they failed to convert doesn’t mean its the wrong call. Sometimes plays just don’t go your way. It’s not as easy as fake the handoff roll to the right and take your choice of passing or running it into the end zone.

  7. When you only need one yard, percentage-wise, a handoff to the running back is always the safest play. This is pure monday morning quarterbacking. If he gets it in, no one is saying anything about the call.

  8. honestly either way the guy would have been critizied. run up the the middle on inches is a good call period. so pft shut up about it. and im not evening a saints fan!

  9. packers need to fix the CB’s and LB positions, or else it will be a long year! Thumbs down all you want. Our Offense is good 2/4 Qtrs Period! Our D needs to play better!

  10. If it would have worked, you’d be praising him for picking/coaching Mark Ingram.

  11. Looks like they were confused at the end of the game. A fake to Ingram and a Brees bootleg would have been an easy score.

    But hey it could have been worse. Just imagine how bad the Saints would have been beat if they hadn’t had their unity workouts during the lockout….

  12. That was not pass interference. Hawk never touched Sproles. Nice job refs, but even you couldn’t get the Saints a win. The score was much closer than the game indicated. The Pack beat the Saint all up and down “know your role boulevard”.

  13. bobbinski1229 says: Sep 9, 2011 12:10 AM

    Terrible call… But I also thought AJ Hawk just made a tremendous play before hand (On the pass interference call) didn’t see how it was pass interference


    Great play by Hawk and an absolutely horrible call. He was totally going for the ball all the way.

    High school call by the ref, no wonder people think Vegas pays the refs off.

  14. Just like Andy Reid against the Packers in last year’s season opener. (Sending Vick straight up the middle on 4th and 1? Really?)

    I guess there’s just something about this franchise that causes opposing coaches to have big-time brain farts late in close games.

  15. If his offense can’t gain one yard to score a touchdown, they have no rights winning the game. Better believe that was the first thing Payton said in the lockerroom afterwards. There were no problems with that call.

  16. “Payton … decided to go with the plainest, most conventional call in his playbook with no time left. It didn’t make any sense.”

    Actually, you’re forgetting all the time he spent with the Giants. I’m a Giants fans and even I can admit the Giants have been running that same play in that same situation for the past thirty years.

  17. Ingram should’ve gone the ballet route. Impressive tippy toes. Rookie of the Year my arse.

    Julio here we come.

  18. so they got a new center and are supposed to have these “great” guards and they drafted a “between the tackles” runner in ingram and thats what they get? forget the play call. how about some execution?

  19. Ummm… would NOT be saying this had Ingram scored. Besides, the Saints have a great interior Oline, 2 great Offensive Guards…it’s just that our Packers DLine was better on that play.

    To all Saints fans,

    It was a great game. Brees played great. Darren Sproles is an awesome pickup. Could’ve gone either way at the end. (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fear Brees was gonna pull it out in the end.)

    We’ll see you guys again in the playoffs!!!

  20. I should be happier because the Pack won. Shades of last season’s start with MM calling scared in the second half. Let the team play, MM. Let your HOF QB pass. Slocum: still sucks.

  21. Biggest 8 point blow I’ve ever watched. The Packers couldn’t be stopped. Did anyone actually feel like Green Bay didn’t have total control of this game? It’s amazing the Saints only lost by 8 points.

  22. Payton — the man who wasn’t afraid to call an onside kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl — decided to go with the plainest, most conventional call in his playbook with no time left. It didn’t make any sense.
    And you would be saying that same exact thing if Ingram pounded it into the end-zone, right?

  23. Mike SMith, just stick to bringing the editor of this site his coffee…thats all your qualified to do. Peyton is a superbowl winning coach, you are nobody.

  24. If Brees rolls out he walks in the end zone. I didn’t think they would actually try and run it in. Good game tho. What a start to the season.

  25. Totally should’ve faked the handoff and rolled out right and dumped it to Thomas right off the line. TD Saints, chance for 2 Point Conv.

  26. Those saying it’s a bad call and SP lost his nerve are short sighted. The Saints are trying to build a running game that was sorely missed last season. He challenged his offense to punch it in and they let him down. This time. It’s a marathon. the Saints lost this battle, but the war is just beginning.

  27. First ever NFL game aside, Ingram didn’t look like anybody special. Some said he was no better than average before the draft and he played like it. Not enough power to be a bruiser, not enough speed to be a home run threat.

  28. I know it’s probably way too early to say this, but I’m just not impressed with what I’ve seen from Mark Ingram so far both in this game and the preseason. His power running in college just doesn’t seem to have translated to the NFL. Looks a bit like Ron Dayne to me.

  29. There’s such a thing as a hindsight bias…look it up…the Packers could have just as easily been expecting the fake.

  30. He won the Super Bowl two years ago and single-handedly rescued a dying city and gave its residents hope but today, after one loss, he is a ball-less dolt who couldn’t out-coach Rich Kotite’s grandmother. It’s so great to have the NFL back!

  31. Two incredible offenses, two defenses that were over-matched.

    Sean Payton robbed all of us of an incredible finish with his absurd play calling in short yardage situations.

  32. Is this really a discussion? He called an onside kick to start the first half of the SB. He’s only a genius because it worked. If that had been recovered by the Colts he’d be an idiot right? If he ran a bootleg and it didn’t work this would be a talk about why he didn’t just run up the middle. For future reference…hindsight will always and forever be 20/20. Just throwin this out there…but maybe he was expecting their DC to call some elaberate defense and the genius was the simplicity of the play? Food for thought…

  33. I just wonder how the hell that TD pass by the Saints where a Packer fell and took the Saints TE down with him as the ball was arriving, wasn’t FLAGRANT pass interference?!?

    Also, how come Woodson wasn’t ejected when the rule is well known?

    And why did Obama ruin our pregame coverage with his lame speech?

    And can we please stop cutting to Clay (Fabio on steroids) Matthhews after every play? It was like he was the media’s replacement for Favre or something.

    Collinsworth: “And there is Clay Matthewsafter the play, chewing on his mouth piece and adjusting his jock strap. What a great player… and look at that pretty hair… he’s just dreamy.”

  34. Typical.

    If they had attempted a pass and it didn’t work you’d be writing an article about “why wouldn’t they just pound the ball in from the one yard line, isn’t that why they moved up in the draft to get Ingram?”

    Bottom line is, this is the play that was called and it’s all that matters. Nobody knows if a pass play would have been more effective or not so dont even bother going there.

  35. Under certain circumstances, I could understand the last play call. You only need one yard and you have a stocky young RB with a great motor. But when your o-line has been getting thrown around all game, when defenders have been hitting your gaps with ease, when BJ Raji is stuffing the middle, and when you’re QB is in rhythm, you DON’T run up the gut. Bonehead call after the gift pass interference call.

    Woodson needs to get suspended for a game as well. Classless act from a guy I usually like to watch play.

  36. Good lord…If it worked all you Madden QB Heros would be talking about how that was the obvious play seeing as they never tried it before in the game so they never saw it coming.

    Just leave it as it is. A great game between two great teams that are likely to meet again in the post season.

  37. The better question is why Sproles made no attempt to get out of bounds after he caught that pass. I really thought Brees should have spiked it before that play when there were 20 seconds left, but what do I know?

  38. Why don’t you be a blogger and let Sean Payton be the head coach. It’s one thing to criticize and question, but don’t tell us what you would have done. We don’t care…

    That being said, Go Packers.

  39. Agree 100%. As soon as play happened I said they should have called a pass to give option to throw or run. Especially since they stuffed their runs several times earlier.

  40. I concur with the earlier poster. AJ hawk made an AMAZING play on the ball. replay showed he didnt even TOUCH the WR. NFL wants drama, they got DRAMA.

    But the better team still prevails.

  41. Terrible call… But I also thought AJ Hawk just made a tremendous play before hand (On the pass interference call) didn’t see how it was pass interference, but at least they still won, and it wasn’t a questionable ending to a game….

    None the less… What a bad ass way to open the season….
    Really? I thought they were about to bring out a saddle for Hawk. Last time I checked, jumping on a guys head when the ball is in the air is pass interference.

    P.S. Im not a Saints or Packers fan

  42. And thats not even counting the FLAGRANT holding on the Saints OL on the 3rd and long throw that gave the Saints points to even still be in the game.

  43. Stick to being a bush league blogger and not a play caller. STFU Sean Payton has won a Super Bowl and you’re depth on a blog.

  44. Ehh… you can’t be a gambler on every single play. He went with the highest percentage play in that situation. If you can’t gain a freaking yard on the ground with the game on the line then you don’t deserve to win. Simple as that.

    For the record, I’m not even a Saints fan. I could care less. But that was in no way the god awful call you’re making it out to be.

  45. Ever heard of ” SmashMouth ” football. I have no problem with that call.It’s when you get fancy that bites ya in the butt.

  46. Another intense week 1 game.

    Last year our Defense had to shut down Vick on a 4th & 1 QB draw, this year, goal line… up the gut Packer Football.

    I think Madden should just hand out a clutch rating for all our Defensive players.

  47. While no play is a certain touchdown, why not call something that offers a play/pass option. Unimaginative at best.

  48. Smith,..youre embarrassing yourself,….Peyton has reached heights, you are a nobody…sorry if the truth hurts.

  49. Did you not watch the game? They tried the play action fake on short yardage twice before and it failed miserably.

    1st time was 3rd down about a 10-15 yard loss on a sack. Nobody was open.

    2nd time on the 4th and inches:
    Incompletion. almost lost about 15 yards on a sack.

  50. “Payton had one play to call to give the Saints a shot at sending the game into overtime. And what did he call? The most obvious play you could imagine from the 1-yard line: A handoff up the middle to Mark Ingram.”

    He SHOULD have fired the ball to WR Marques Colston….the guy kinda disappeared in the game??

  51. Jason Douglas says:
    Sep 9, 2011 12:08 AM
    Agreed. Also, why run the rookie Ingram instead of Thomas?


    That’s what Ingram was brought in for. Shouldn’t have happened anyway, two bad calls leading up. Bush easily had a knee down before sliding into the endzone and then the PI on Hawk wasn’t actually PI. I thought it was at first but he clearly jumped over Sproles’ shoulder and knocked that ball away.

    Anyway, doesn’t matter. Saints are easily the best offense we will face this year and we still got the win.

  52. This is so results orientated it’s unreal. If Ingram had scored you would have thought it was a good call. If he had faked it to Ingram rolled out and thrown incomplete to the TE, you would have been like “OMG why didn’t you jst run it down the middle, it’s the percentage play!”

  53. After the first half I’m surprised the saints even had an opportunity to tie the game at the end, but it was a hell of a game. Great start of the season. Only thing that would of made it better would of been if the first game went into overtime. Now I can’t wait for the eagles game! I love the NFL

  54. It’s week one. He’ll probably call something different I’m the NFC Championsip game. Or not. Oooooh, sneaky.

  55. Pretty easy hindsight. Are we all in agreement that had he called a rollout and that failed, plenty of people would have said “you’re on the 1 yard line, let your guys upfront get the job done for you?”

  56. Sean Peyton lost the game due to his ego. He’s still upset he wasn’t offered the Packers job he wanted at the time he and McCarthy were interviewed. Instead of making the logical call of kicking a field goal (which his mentor Parcells would have done), he went for it and gave the game away. You don’t go for it unless the game is on the take the points. I’m shocked he would make such a horrible decision in a close game.

  57. Was terrible.

    But the game is an instant classic. I am in the minority, but I do not think this was a case of two defenses playing terrible. It was a case of the two best offenses in the league squaring off against one another.

    The Saints certainly missed Will Smith that is for sure!

  58. I think Brees should have found some inspiration from Bart Starr, who was at the game.

    Growing up in Wisconsin, I remember a couple of Packer games where Green Bay was in a similar do-or-die situation on the opponents one yard line. The play called in the huddle would be similar to the handoff to Ingram. The twist was that Starr would fake the handoff – and then run a QB sneak around the outside of the pile-up. The couple of times I remember he got TD’s.

    The twist was that Starr didn’t tell anyone that he had made the decision to run a sneak. Only he knew. Everyone else on the offense hit the line for the run up the middle, and that all out commitment got the defense bite – and therefore made his sneak into the end zone look like an afternoon stroll.

  59. There are two immutable laws of football:

    1. Any play call that doesn’t work is stupid.

    2. Andy play call that works is genius.

    I can see numerous reasons for Payton to call that play.

    * He wanted to “trick” the Pack.
    * He wanted to challenge his offensive line to win the game.
    * He felt the team needed momentum for the confidence of the running backs, enough to risk game #1.
    * Brees was having issues we don’t know about (stinger, etc).
    * There was a miscommunication.
    * Brees say a read before and felt it would work.
    * The OC say a read before and felt it would work.

    Honestly, you could go on and on.

    So…not knowing the full details…I guess you’ll just have to call the guy who turned New Orleans football around and “saved” the city (hyperbole not mine…I don’t buy into that) an idiot.


    Great game, for both teams. Green Bay was almost perfect and New Orleans didn’t fold but came back again and again. Not a fan of either team, but if I was I would NOT be spending today whining or making excuses/accusations. We almost didn’t have football this year; we started with a minor classic.

    Isn’t that ENOUGH???

  60. i thought it was the right call, Ingram just came into the line way to slow 😦 with that td he would have had a decent fantasy game, 4 F’in points

  61. Why not give them the obvious so it might be the not so obvious because they would be thinking that the saints wouldnt go with the obvious but obviously not. AND if he made it he would of been a genius blah blah blah, obviously

  62. lucky is correct, the horrible play by brees earlier on a 4th and inches, dictated calling the opposite type of play (but still horrible)

    it’s not the play anyway, it’s the execution of said play

  63. WOW, second guessing a superbowl winning coach on his play calling? …and who are you Michael David Smith? Any play that comes up short is a bad call. Had it worked would you still criticize the call?
    I imagine Brees has enough pull in the organization to change the call had he seen something reading the defense.
    This is a team sport. one can point to a myriad of reasons why they came up short on that particular play. sounds the Mr. Smith is a little to personal on this commentary.

  64. Nothing worked in short yardage for the Saints all game. Their O-line got man handled all game. I didn’t like the call but every offensive should be able to gain 1 yard.

  65. If they had called a bootleg and gotten stuffed the article would be chastizing him about getting too cute. Nothing wrong with running there. Nothing is guaranteed.

  66. 1. Brees choked earlier; probably thinking about his future as a labor negotiator!
    2. Peyton choked on play call!
    3. Defense poorly prepared and lazy; ditto special teams except Sproles!

  67. This whole article is written as if defenses arent also allowed to make plays. This was the right call by football standards, the Packers defense executed better than the Saints…if anyone should be called out its the RT Charles Brown who allowed all of that penetration by going low and missing.

  68. yeah bc playaction earlier on 4 n inches really worked well for them. you would be saying the same crap if he rolled out and threw an incomplete pass…just shut up! it was the right playcall just didn’t work that’s it!

  69. As an Eagles fan, I can tell you w/ confidence that if Reid was in the same situation, and had called one of the more creative alternatives you’re recommending, the run-it-up-the-gut Philly faithful would have said HE lost his nerve. And may PFT would have too.

    Bottom line: if it works, the coach made the right call. If it doesn’t he’s an idiot. But the players have to execute.

  70. cballlv11 says:
    Sep 9, 2011 1:12 AM
    So you’re saying he should have called the same play action that didn’t work on 4th and goal in the 3rd quarter??? Yeah…sure.


    Exactly! I am no Saints fan (in fact I am enjoying the Patriots hold on the number one overall pick in the draft next year at the moment), but he tried that BS play at the goal line earlier and got killed for it. You are a little late to the party MDS. It makes it sound like you were only half watching the game. Shame on you.

  71. 4th and inches in the 3rd, and he moved away from Ingram (who was brought in for such situations) and they didn’t convert. Them on 4th and 1 with the game on the line, they go to him? Payton messed up, but regardless, Green Bay won fair and almost square (refs were terrible in the last drive).

  72. Everybody says the penalty against hawk was a bad call but the replays were picking up the play a little late.

  73. A subpar rushing average is 3.5 yards per attempt…that would have put ingram 2.5 yards deep in the e.d zone..perhaps it wasn’t the play call but rather the execution…your line should be able to get one yard … theory…if saints fans don’t want him as their coach, ill gladly take him to coach my inept bumblef*ck of a team

  74. You’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. Instead of dissing the Saints offense, which was on fire the entire game, you should be praising the GB defense, which finally held strong on the most important play of the game.

    Why do sports writers always write about “choking” or failing when a score isn’t made instead of pointing to the 11 talented men playing D? Those guys are important too, ya dumbos.

  75. should have run a little toss play to sproles.if he would have gotten just a half a yard difference,he would have been able to squeeze in the end zone.

  76. I’m just happy the Saints are 0-1.

    The Packers might score 90 on my Panthers next Sunday, but at least the Saints are 0-1.

  77. Why are Packer fans complaining about the officiating? One of the zebras was staring at right Woodson when he sucker punched a Saints o-lineman (stay classy Green Bay!). The official threw the flag but Woodson wasn’t ejected. What a gift! Even with Woodson in the game, Brees still threw for 419 yards and had two plays from the 1-yard line to try and tie it at the end. Just be thankful for the non-call and quit whining. Please.

  78. There were several options on that last play and the Saints picked one that didn’t work. It wasn’t a dumb call with low probability, the Packers line outplayed the Saints line on that play.

    That was a great game. Why are people blasting the Saints defense but not the Packers’ D? I think the Saints had more yards and were just as capable of moving the ball. Both teams have potent offenses.

  79. I played ball from 8 to 19..been watching it since I was 6…and I never understood this play. You call a run straight at a 3 ton mass of players and pads without one iota of an element of surprise ! And half the time this is after your runners have been shut down up the middle all game, so now all fo a sudden teh middle will open wide ! Nevermind spread formations or rollouts..a quadruple reverse to teh mascot would stand a better chance of gettin’ it in ! I guess that’s why I am not an NFL coach.

  80. Because on a 4th and inches they ran a play action and Brees had to run around like a chicken with his head cut off and then everyone complained as to why they didnt run it there.

    Because that team isnt built to gain the 1yd on a running game.

  81. I didn’t like the call, but to blame it on a loss of nerve is absurd. Payton is an outstanding coach and I’m sure he was convinced that play would score.

    Great game, the Packers looked strong but all Super Bowl Champs do in the season opener the past several years with the Kickoff Special format.

    The Saints were impressive as well and showed great resiliency. many, if not most teams in the NFL would have let down and lost that game by much more.

  82. This article is pointless. If the run works then it’s not even mentioned. I could understand listing this if you were reviewing the whole game but as it’s own article it is just dumb.

  83. I still don’t understand why the 2 previous short yardage situations they didnt run it. When it was 4th n about or the 3rd n 2…. Sean Payton lost the game not Mark Ingram.

  84. If you can’t get a yard on a run up the middle you don’t deserve to win, and they didn’t. Good game.

  85. There must be a reason Sean Payton is a head coach and everyone posting on here including Michael Smith isn’t.

  86. Payton screwed the pooch and broke a cardinal rule of coaching by not kicking the FG earlier in the game when he went for it and lost on 4th down.

    He tried to throw it and lost. So he comes back on the last play and decides to win it with a run and loses again.

    NO is a very good team. GB is a very good team but this game was won by McCarthy who was better than Payton this time.

  87. I don’t think it’s this simple. The Saints had tried the very play you suggest earlier in the game, in a similar spot on the field – and promptly landed a 15-yard-or-so loss. People expect the Saints to try something out of the box, so the “most obvious play” would be a surprise coming from them.

    In this context, trying “the most obvious play” is what may have taken the most nerve. Put the ball in the hands of Brees, and nobody would fault Payton, whatever the outcome. That’s the safe/easy option. Hand it to a rookie, and the coach gets 100% of the blame.

    How does that not take nerve?

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