The first pass from quarterback Drew Brees during the New Orleans Saints’ divisional-round, 23-15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks should have gone to tight end Jimmy Graham, the guy who led the NFL in touchdown catches this season.
Instead, Graham was overlooked and forgotten for most of the game as Brees couldn’t make anything happen toward his favorite target. Head coach Sean Payton likewise failed to adjust the game plan to utilize his most valuable weapon outside of Brees himself.
Graham finished the game with one reception for eight yards. He didn’t catch that pass until there were just 24 seconds remaining on the clock.
Yes, it was raining, which made throwing the ball precarious. True, the wind was howling, further mucking up Brees’ ability to zip passes into tight spaces. And, without a doubt, Seattle safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas did a hell of a job covering, sometimes mauling, Graham.
But one catch and only six targets for the best tight end playing football in the NFL right now? That was an enormous mistake.
And that wasn’t even the most egregious error made by New Orleans during the final 60 minutes of its season.
The eight-point differential on the final scoreboard doesn’t show it, but there was a lot of sloppy play on the turf at CenturyLink Field, none of which was caused by the poor weather conditions.
Saints safety Rafael Bush made the first huge mistake of the game when he came in late with his shoulder to the helmet of Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin at the end of a third-down play. The pass was already incomplete, but Bush’s unnecessary roughness penalty extended the Seattle drive, which resulted in a field goal.
Let’s keep count. That’s three points for the Seahawks as the result of stupidity.
With 5:08 left in the first quarter, Saints kicker Shayne Graham set up for a 45-yard field goal. The snap was fine, but quarterback Luke McCown, the holder on the play, set the ball up laces in for Graham. Anyone who’s seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective knows the laces go out when kicking the football.
Right, Dan Marino?
With just 10 minutes gone in the game, the Saints had already missed out on three points and given away three more.
On the next New Orleans drive, running back Mark Ingram fumbled the football away. Two plays later, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch romped into the end zone for a 15-yard score.
Yet another mistake made by New Orleans that led to more points for Seattle. After the game, Brees blamed turnovers for the Saints' loss.
"They're a great team,” said Brees, as reported by WWL-TV. “It's a tough place to play. At the end of the day the most key stat is the turnover differential."
While that wasn’t exactly Brees throwing Ingram under the bus, the running back's miscue was the only turnover of the game. The QB's comment was a bit of a misguided statement.
Brees threw for 309 yards and a touchdown, but he had a less-than-stellar game. He had five completions and 34 yards passing in the first half, where most of his passing attempts flew like ducks. His most costly mistakes came in the second half, however, and had nothing to do with throwing the football.
Twice in the fourth quarter, Brees was forced to call a timeout with the game clock stopped to keep the play clock from expiring. That’s miserable clock management and something that should never happen to a veteran quarterback, no matter how hostile and deafening the crowd was.
Then, Payton wasted the team’s third and final timeout with a challenge flag.
With the Seahawks clinging to an eight-point lead inside the final three minutes of the game, quarterback Russell Wilson connected on a 24-yard pass on third down to wide receiver Doug Baldwin. There was some question as to when Baldwin established possession of the football, causing Payton to throw the red flag.
It’s hard to fault Payton for attempting to get that play overturned, but it seemed like a mistake to burn the team's final timeout on a challenge he didn't know he was going to win.
The timeouts would have come in handy later.
New Orleans scored a touchdown with 26 seconds left, bringing the score to 23-15, then recovered an onside kick. The Saints had the ball on their own 42-yard line with 24 seconds to tie the game.
If Brees had some or all of his timeouts, he could have used the middle of the field more effectively on that final drive. And then, possibly, Marques Colston wouldn’t have felt it necessary to catch a pass and throw it forward again with just a few seconds left on the clock.
The Saints’ season ended on an illegal forward pass penalty and a 10-second runoff that killed the clock, along with any chance for a magical finish from Brees.
Brees shouldn’t have blamed the Ingram turnover and he can’t blame the New Orleans defense. The defensive unit kept the Saints in the game long enough to give the offense time to win at the end.
Instead, the guys with the most blame heaped on their shoulders should be Brees and Payton.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.