Sean Payton Needs to Shoulder More Blame
A lone bead of sweat ran across my forehead as my eyes focused on the sheet of paper in front of me. The room was hushed as its 20 or so occupants concentrated on their craft.
The task we were working on was no laughing matter, and one false move could ruin the day’s work.
I grabbed my pack of crayons and began to labor. I was a kindergartener who was just handed his first color-coded worksheet, and the fate of my picture was on the line.
We were told that if we added the numbers in each space correctly, the answer key at the top of the page would help us choose the proper color for the space. A mistake in our arithmetic might just make us color our green sea turtles purple.
Soon after we began, the classmate sitting across from me whispered a question. She wanted to know what the sum of three and five was, and as I began to tell her that the answer was probably 11, I was caught by the long arm of justice.
My teacher told me that I broke the rules for talking during class and was forced to move my stick to the “warning cup.” My head began to spin as I left my desk to ceremoniously accept my punishment.
I wondered why I had been punished while the hooligan who started the conversation skirted blame.
This would be the first lesson in my new discovery that, sometimes, following the rules and accepting blame do not apply to everyone.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton is a lot like my classmate who avoided punishment that fateful kindergarten day.
In a world full of blame, Payton shoulders very little of it.
I understand why. Payton is the winningest head coach in Saints history, and his partnership with quarterback Drew Brees guided a historically losing franchise to playoff glory and a Super Bowl championship in 2009.
This turnaround came when the city needed it most after the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina.
It’s difficult to cast blame on someone who has done so much for a franchise, especially since the Saints have established themselves as such a consistent playoff contender in the last four seasons.
The divisional round of the playoffs is not the pinnacle of what the Saints front office builds their roster to achieve though. These last four years have not been in pursuit of another NFC South Division Championship banner.
Yes, the Saints have been on the short end of some historically awful breaks. Any time a football game becomes associated with proper nouns like Minneapolis Miracle or No-call in New Orleans, you can probably bet that there has been some tough luck along the way.
What’s forgotten is that the 2017 Minneapolis Miracle doesn’t happen if the Saints didn’t start the game flat and enter the locker room down 17-0 at halftime.
What’s not talked about is the fact that after the officials choked on their whistles in the 2018 No-call in New Orleans, the Saints received the ball first in overtime and failed to execute.
Throw in lackluster performances in a 2019 wild card round loss to the Vikings and, most recently, Sunday’s 30-20 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round, and you have a recipe for four straight seasons of disappointment.
The blame for these losses doesn’t solely fall on Payton, but he shouldn’t be immune from criticism either. He’s considered one of the all-time great coaches active in the game today, yet he has only led the franchise beyond the divisional round three times.
Talent was never a chronic issue for New Orleans in the last 15 years. The Saints had great teams during Payton’s tenure, and the franchise was fortunate enough to have a quarterback who many consider to be in the top five of his position in the history of the game.
Yet, you only won one Super Bowl.
Nick Foles has won a Super Bowl. Trent Dilfer has won a Super Bowl. Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls.
Drew Brees has won one Super Bowl.
I am not advocating for the Saints to begin shopping for another head coach. What I am saying is that the only way this franchise will continue to grow and have a shot of getting over its playoff hump is to force all members of the team, not just the players, to share the blame and do some soul searching this offseason.
If Saints fans and the front office never force Payton to move his stick to the “warning cup,” it may be some time before they bring another Lombardi Trophy back to Crescent City.