‘Payton’s Place’ already affects Saints, but Colts game a fixer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

So had you not seen last Sunday’s Saints game, and only heard that they lost a player to a torn knee ligament and a broken leg … if I gave you 55 guesses, would you have come back with coach Sean Payton?

Seriously, what a freak occurrence. Nobody will ever know if the Saints could have won Sunday with Payton overseeing things; for as poorly as the team’s defense played, a bit more redzone efficiency, a third down conversion here or there … in such a close game a number of things could have swung it.

One decision where I’m sure they missed Payton’s experience, though, came at game’s end. After Tampa Bay converted on that third down pass attempt on its final drive, the one in which the ball appeared to hit the ground but was upheld … regardless of whether you agreed with the call or not, the Saints made a critical mistake in not challenging before the two minute warning.

A challenge there stops the clock, and at worst you lose a timeout; challenges remaining are irrelevant since once the warning hits, it’s an automatic booth review on anything questionable. Since you need to be calling a timeout anyway, it’s a no-brainer.

But waiting until the two-minute mark essentially caused the Saints to burn two timeouts at once, effectively meaning “Win the challenge, or lose the game.” Once Tampa came out ahead on the call, the Saints could stop the clock just once more. A timeout at, say, 2:10, allows the Saints two stoppages, once at the warning and once after; it potentially makes Tampa decide if they want to just run the ball and give it back with a minute-plus left, or risk a pass.

And for the argument that Tampa got two more first downs anyway … it falls into the great unknown. At that point, the Saints had to try to strip the ball to have a chance anyway. Nobody knows what would have happened if they had a chance to force a punt.

I’ll be glad to have Payton’s playcalling prowess back in the fold this Sunday night; that said, I hope he is able to continue to make these types of critical decisions from the press box, as he’s already been sorely missed.

As far as the Colts go … last week I was kinda doom and gloom. Tampa scared me — you never, ever want to face a decent team coming off of a humiliating loss.

But the Colts, sans Manning, aren’t decent. I have no such concerns. I believe the decisive blow will be swift and the Saints bounce back to win in a rout: concerns over Mark Ingram’s effectiveness and that also of the defense will be tabled for at least a week, as this is a prime “get well” game for both a running game and a defense.

Also, Oakland is going to the AFC Championship game.

Thought I’d slip that in there.

Not kidding, either. It’s a leap of faith, I know — they’ve been a joke for years, and though they’ve played well for a six game stretch, the AFC is loaded with contenders.

But while everyone is fixated on the price Oakland gave for Carson Palmer — and it was steep — his potential impact is being largely ignored.

Oakland’s offense has been a top 10 entity for two years, coinciding with Hue Jackson coming on as an offensive coordinator last year and his ascension to head coach. This has been on the back of Darren McFadden and the best running game in the league.

But Oakland also has a slew of young, quality pass catchers. Denarius Moore has only one big game this year, but he flashed major playmaking skill when he had the opportunity (seriously … if you’re a fantasy junkie like I am, Moore is a lottery ticket that could potentially win your league). Jacoby Ford is Desean Jackson-West, and Darius Heyward-Bey has actually been cashing in on that first round pedigree.

Jason Campbell was what he was: a low-upside, low mistake starter who loves to throw to big receivers and check down. Moore and Ford’s potential has been largely untapped with him, but with Palmer, I think it’ll be a different story. He suffered an elbow injury two years ago that has reportedly healed with rest, and word from NFL observers is that his arm looks like that of a vintage Palmer.

Talent wise, they’re not better than New England, San Diego or Baltimore — but they’re close enough, now. I also believe in teams playing for something, and this is a team trying to honor the late Al Davis by doing the thing he relished most.

Just win, baby.

And I think they’ll do just that.