With just minutes to go, the Patriots decided it was their time to take their last shot against the New Orleans Saints on fourth down deep in their own territory. The Saints’ defense held firm, and that should have been the end of the Patriots.
Then something funny happened. The Saints went conservative, settling for a field goal that put them ahead of the Patriots by a score of 27 to 23.
So, with just over two minutes remaining, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense needed to go the distance of the field for a winning touchdown. Instead, on the first play of the drive, Brady threw a long interception.
With only one timeout plus the two-minute warning, surely the Patriots were sunk. Again, however, the Saints stayed conservative, and the Patriots were able to get the ball back once again with 1:13 left on the clock.
From there, as you’ve probably seen by now, the Patriots drove the distance, scoring the winning touchdown with just five seconds remaining and dealing the Saints their first loss of the season.
It’s a scenario we see all too often in the NFL. A high-powered offense goes conservative in an effort to preserve a win, and in doing so, actually losses the game. It’s something we expect from other teams, but with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in charge in New Orleans, it’s surprising to see the Saints victimize themselves in such a strange way.
Some will fault the Saints’ defense headed by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for the loss. Don’t even start down that path. The Saints stopped the Patriots two times, handing their offense the ball, and what should have been the game. Twice, the Saints chose the conservative route, and it bit them.
While the loss stings, ultimately it won’t harm the Saints. In a weak division, the Saints are almost certainly postseason bound, and in regard to tie-breakers, the loss to an AFC team won’t hurt much if at all.
Still, the Saints’ lesson is one best learned through experience. Bill Belichick had no faith the Patriots could get the ball back once Drew Brees possessed it, and that’s what drove him to make the call to go for it on fourth down in his own territory. It’s a gutsy call that has backfired on Belichick before, but he made the call again, and again his team failed to convert.
This time, unlike against the Colts a few years ago, the Saints didn’t have the killer instinct. It’s strange that the Saints, who have been known for having a suspect offense, wouldn’t go for the death blow by putting the ball in the air, especially since the Patriots were selling out to stop the run.
So, in giving away a thrilling game, the Saints will now be used as a cautionary tale, at least for the foreseeable future. This is why it’s so important to go for the win, and not play to not lose. I know it’s a cliché, but there’s some truth in that statement. It’s a truth the Saints have learned the hard way.