I was right about several things concerning tonight’s epic season opener. Although I picked the wrong team http://daodesam.blogspot.com/2011/09/week-one-nfl-picks.html I did note that the game would be a shoot-out, both defenses would struggle to shut down the pass, and that the Packers would win in a close one. Alas, I came a yard short of an almost assured Saints cover, whether they had missed the two point conversion, or if it had gone into overtime where games normally end in field goals.
In an excellent game that had a plethora, yeah, I love that word and try to sneak it in whenever possible, of big plays and turning points one stands out. Saints are down by 8 and they have the ball, 4th down, on the Packers’ 7 yard line. Usually I would be screaming, “GO FOR IT!” with everyone else, but when my friend, Dave Hodgson, asked me what I would do, I said, “Kick it,” with no hesitation.
Here’s my reasoning why: First of all, it was still the third quarter. If you take the field goal you keep the pressure on Green Bay to come back and score. With the new kick-off rules, they could have cut the lead to 5, and almost have been assured of the Packers starting at their own 20. They would keep all the momentum in their favor. They had already outscored the Packers 10-7 up to this point in the 3rd quarter. I think Payton chose to make his stand and push all of his chips into the middle of the table on this play. I believe the game came down quite literally to that one play.
The 4th down stop affected the game in several ways not reflected on the scoreboard. If you take the field goal, you keep the Packers down, you keep the fans down. The seeds of doubt are being sown. Players and fans start to wonder if the game is starting to slip away. With the failed 4th down play, the whole place was instantly rejuvenated. Despite the fact that the Packers had gone 3 and out on their last drive, it seemed a given that they would drive 92 yards down the field and score.
That’s my last point. The Saints got that far on that drive because one, they forced a three and out on the last possession, two, Sproles had a great return into the Packers half of the field, and three, they were able to get a couple first downs. Those are basically free points. The offense was given great field position, the drive took very little time off the clock in a game where they were constantly trailing, and everything was going right for them. Don’t tempt fate. Take the three free points and keep the momentum while narrowing the margin. Instead, they went for the throat there, failed, pumped up the whole Packers team and sent the fans into frenzy.
Coach Payton is probably much smarter than me and is perhaps most famous for his planet like balls, as shown by his famous on-side kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl. But I don’t think this was the right spot for such a gambit. Those kinds of risks you take when you need to get something going when all the breaks are going the other way, preferably in your home stadium or even a neutral site like the Super Bowl. Once they took their gamble, and failed, in Green Bay, they were toast. Drew Brees could have thrown for a million yards, but time and again, they didn’t believe they could get the one yard when they needed too, and the Packers did.
One more note on Darren Sproles. I’ve loved this guy since the NCAA 2004 video game, where he was faster than everyone else and could not be tackled. Exclamations of “Sproles! Sproles!” usually be heard coming from Ben Herndon’s (My Texan Buddy, who would always come with the Vince Young era Long Horns) room at River Land. A lot of people will get really excited about his game and run to go pick him up for their fantasy leagues. I will remain skeptical for now. He will be their primary pass catching back, but in games that they are not trailing in, which I would expect to be most of them, Ingram and Pierre Thomas will still get the bulk of the load. Unless your league is PPR or gives you points for return yards, I would hold off on adding Sproles.