NEW ORLEANS -- Until the New Orleans Saints quit trying to please suspended coach Sean Payton and start playing for themselves and their current coaches, they will be doing a disservice to owner Tom Benson.
Believe it or not, this season is not about Payton.
It is not about Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, the Bounty scandal, the replacement officials or trying to prove NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrong.
It is all about defending the NFC South title, seizing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and trying to win another Lombardi Trophy in their backyard on the 3rd of February.
At least it was.
The season seems to be a lost cause today in light of an inexplicable 0-3 start, in light of Sunday's crushing 27-24 loss in overtime to the resilient Kansas City Chiefs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It is one of the most perplexing performances by the Saints in recent memory. To see them squander an 18-point lead, at home, and lose in overtime to the CHIEFS of all teams, well, it is absolutely mind boggling.
To watch Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Drew Brees and the NFL's most prolific offense go in a shell in the fourth quarter, well, it simply is unfathomable.
Brees & Company choked.
There is no getting around it.
The offense played not to lose rather than to win down the stretch, and there is a huge difference in the two mindsets. How else does one explain zero completions in the final 23 minutes, 33 seconds of regulation and OT? How else does one explain minus-16 yards on offense and no first downs in the same time frame?
And, back-to-back timeouts called by interim coach Aaron Kromer and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, resulting in a crucial 5-yard delay of game penalty? Are you kidding?
Look at these numbers, Who Dat Nation. Read 'em and weep.
FIRST DOWNS -- KC (27), NO (14). Footnote: NO had 4 first downs in the second half and OT, none after the 3rd quarter.
NET YARDS -- KC (510), NO (288). Footnote: KC compiled 333 yards in the second half and OT, NO 70 yards.
TOTAL PLAYS -- KC (92), NO (59). Footnote: KC Ran 60 plays to NO's 28 in the second half and OT.
NET YARDS RUSHING -- KC (273), NO (83). Footnote: Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles gashed the Saints for 233 yards on 33 carries, including a franchise-long 91-yard touchdown jaunt in the third quarter. He looked pedestrian in the first half with a meager 37 yards rushing before exploding for nearly 200 after halftime and turning into Charles the Great.
TIME OF POSSESSION -- KC (42:32), NO (26:01). Footnote: TOP was nearly dead even at 15 minutes each in the first half.
Yes, Saints kicker Garrett Hartley, who's usually dead-on from 40 yards and in, missed wide right on a 38-yard field goal attempt in the final minute of the first half. That hurt.
Yes, New Orleans committed two fewer turnovers, collecting three and committing one. That should have made a difference. But the Chiefs produced four sacks and a safety and kicker Ryan Succop converted all six field-goal attempts, including the game-tying 43-yarder with 3 seconds remaining in regulation and the winner from 31 yards with 6:27 left in OT.
As the Chiefs began to mount their epic comeback (from 18 down, a franchise record reversal) with five minutes remaining in the third quarter', I recalled a recent conversation with a former NFL coach who's very familiar with the inner workings of the Saints organization. He has a great appreciation for the daunting task that interim coaches Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt have undertaken in Payton's absence.
The former NFL coach takes exception with the larger-than-life poster of Payton that hangs on a wall inside the team's indoor practice facility bearing the inscription "Do Your Job.'' The 30-foot by 50-foot poster is intended to inspire and motivate players and coaches in Payton's absence.
"The interim coach is in there, he's giving it everything he's got, he's showing leadership, but the problem they've got is that he's just keeping the top spot warm,'' said the former NFL coach who requested anonymity. "It doesn't matter if you're the interim coach for one week, two weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, you got to take leadership of the team.
"That mural is meant to be a reminder for everyone that they've got a great program there and they're not going to get away from it even though Sean Payton is gone. But it's not Sean Payton's team right now. He's not there. He won't be there all season long. It is Joe Vitt's team, or Aaron Kromer's team, or whomever else is in charge. It can't be Sean Payton's team. And, I think that mural (poster) might be a subtle undermining of the coach in charge.''
I'm not ready to suggest that Benson's first order of business Monday should be to remove Payton's picture from the indoor practice facility.
But the man who writes the checks might consider placing a larger-than-life poster of himself on an adjacent wall bearing this inscription: "Do Your Job, Or Else.''
At 0-3 and heading to Green Bay next Sunday, these are desperate times. It is time to get players and coaches out of their comfort zone. No jobs should be safe. Heads, perhaps, should roll. I dare say a picture of angry Boss Benson just might get their attention.
Nothing else has to date.
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