AN OPEN LETTER TO SEAN PAYTON

Rick Sarro Friday, February 7, 2014 0
AN OPEN LETTER TO SEAN PAYTON

Dear Coach,

I know what you must have been thinking. I was thinking the same thing. You should have been working the sidelines at the SuperDome with your Saints playing for the NFC Championship instead of sitting at home watching those Seahawks win again; at home again; in front of those crazy loud fans in Seattle.

I couldn’t help but notice that as luck would have it (and the Seahawks have been on the better side of luck lately), the weather for the NFC title game, just seven days after your last trip to Seattle, was completely different from the 30-mph wind gust and constant rain and cold the Saints had to endure in your divisional playoff loss.

You can’t control mother nature. But would it have been too much to ask her to pick one or the other? Wind or rain, but not both?

The Saints have now lost three very significant games to the Hawks, and all have been on the road in their house. Even though the crowd noise is a factor, I’m sure sick and tired of hearing about it. Probably not as much as you are, though.

Those three losses date back to that 2011 wildcard loss in which the Saints had a better overall record. But because the Seahawks won the NFC Weak West at the time with a 7-9 record, they got the home field.

You should have won that game anyway, and would have hosted the New York Giants at home in the Dome the next week. I know — ancient history; but that one still stings: probably more that this season’s regular season loss which pretty much decided home field, for the playoffs.

Look, the Seahawks at that point hadn’t lost a home game with Russell Wilson at quarterback and were going to be hard to beat, especially in another game played in the cold rain.

Nothing went right from the first snap on, and you couldn’t get the offense on track to take some pressure off the defense.

Coach, I hope you spend some time over the off-season and dissect the game films and game plans and figure out a way to beat those damn SeaBirds because I don’t think I can take another loss to them. I am beyond my limit of Pete Carroll running and jumping on the sidelines with that salmon-eating grin. And all the breaks continue to bounce his way.

This isn’t sour grapes (OK, maybe a little), but the calls and lucky hops go all the way back to that ridiculous touchdown call by the replacement referees who beat (stole the game from) Green Bay on that Monday night game a few years ago. If the refs see it right and call it correctly, the Packers win, and maybe Seattle isn’t even in the playoffs that upside-down season.

I know your pull with the commissioner isn’t what it used to be with Bounty Gate and all, but press whatever clout you have to get the schedule makers to bring the Seahawks south to the MB Dome and see how they fare on our coast.

Enough about Seattle. Just remind Peyton Manning to stay away from a deep corner fade route against Hawks cornerback Richard Sherman in the end zone.

You said it was an achievement and progress for the Saints to be among the final best eight teams, and I can fall in line to a point. You know better than most that the NFL season is a long, arduous road of weekly battles against highly trained and motivated opponents. You endured injuries, a rotating roster, a rash of turnovers and an offense that at times just wasn’t in sync.

And what about some of those calls you made? You had me pulling my hair out with conservative calls one week (New England) and overly aggressive decisions the next.

Help us out with anything to explain what happened at St. Louis and the Met in blowout losses to the Rams and Jets. I know all about it’s the NFL and on any given Sunday, but really — losing to a rookie quarterback like Geno Smith? And another punch in the gut embarrassment to St. Louis with a journeyman backup quarterback on a fast Dome track with more Saints fans there than Rams?

I’m not trying to rub cayenne pepper in a the wound, but I just don’t get it.

I know it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback now that the season is over, but those two last-second, gut-wrenching losses to the Patriots and Panthers on the road were squarely on you. You stood up afterwards and thumped your chest, saying, “those were mine,” but they were tough pills to swallow.

You roll out Drew Brees and complete a short pass for just one more lousy first down in New England with 2 minutes to play and Tom Brady doesn’t get the ball back and doesn’t throw that game-winning touchdown pass with five seconds to play.

If you ditch the screen pass at Carolina (the Panthers knew it was coming almost every time and stuffed it nearly every play as well) and secure yet another first down late in that game, Saints win; take the NFC South and a home game for the wildcard. Instead, Cam Newton sheds the suit and becomes Superman for the final game-winning drive and Carolina goes home with all the prizes.

Don’t get me wrong: a lot of good came our way with your return after serving that one-year suspension.

First and foremost, you hired Rob Ryan as your defensive coordinator, and he restored not only the pride and swagger, but rebuilt the crew into a top five defense that carried your team on more than a few Sundays. Remember the two Atlanta games and the home win over San Francisco.

The Payton-Brees offense was highly ranked again this year and had breakout games against Dallas and at home against Carolina. There were fun nights in New Orleans for those two, but all the offensive highlights seemed to happen on the happy turf at the SuperDome.

Your offense just wasn’t the same away from home. The numbers don’t lie. You averaged close to 14 points less on the road — two touchdowns less and a load more turnovers.

You’re going to have to figure that out this summer.

Brees got banged around too much, and it wasn’t all Charles Brown’s fault at left tackle. It was a bold move to bench Brown and try the rookie Terron Armstead. That will be a competitive battle when camp rolls around.

I couldn’t argue much with cutting kicker Garrick Hartley. You can’t win in the NFL with a kicker who misses five or more makeable field goals. (See the stats on Denver and Seattle’s kickers.)

Ryan deserves a season-ending game ball for the way he got a patchwork defense to play and scheme. Losing cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Kenny Vacarro tipped the scales against you. Especially Vacarro.

Seven defensive starters lost since training camp. I know every team around the league deals with attrition by injury, but give me a break already.

General manager Mickey Loomis will be busy again this off-season. You need more depth in the secondary, and another top-notch cover corner if Greer and Patrick Robinson can’t bounce back from injury.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins is a free agent, as is O-tackle Zach Strief. So those will be difficult decisions. If you had to sign one of the two, I would opt for Strief.

The free agent of all free agents will be All Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. You know his league-leading numbers in touchdowns, receptions and yards for a tight end. Believe me, I know he was a non-factor in big games down the stretch, but you know how much you need him in your offense, so franchise tag him or pay him the mega-bucks in a long-term deal to keep him. He’s pretty durable, and plays with bumps and bruises.

Coach him up on attacking those in-your-face, physical defensive backs so he can get off the line cleaner and he’ll have another record-breaking year in 2014.

Your offense really missed Pierre Thomas in that playoff loss in Seattle. Your favorite screen passes weren’t the same without Thomas. He’s got a few more years left, but the keep-you-up-at-night decision will be what to do with running back Mark Ingram.

He ran hard in the second half of the year; played with passion and determination. But that damn fumble in Seattle hurt; led to the Hawks’ only touchdown of  the game. Credit him for not shying away from his screw-up. He took the hit and said it’s his job to protect the ball. I’m not sure if that’s enough to keep him on the roster.

You may not recall that I was one of those corporate stiffs on the team plane that weekend for the New England game. I thought sure I whispered my two cents about rookie runner Khiry Robinson and how you should be getting him more snaps. I know I didn’t compare Robinson to Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, like your old mentor Bill Parcells did, but I’m sure I mentioned something about how hard he runs and the extra yards he gets after hits.

Look at the film. Let’s not let another Chris Ivory go unused.

That 2009 Super Bowl championship will be five years passed this season. Man, how time can get away from you. That’s five years added to your future Hall of Fame quarterback. Brees will be 35 this season, and coming off a year when he was hit more than I’m sure you were comfortable with.

You and Loomis need to secure and beef up the offensive line. Brees needs some more speed for the deep routes. (Will receiver Joe Morgan be back and better after injury?) And he needs a more consistent running game so he doesn’t feel the need to force balls and make every tight throw, as Brees admitted he did after several games.

You only get a certain number of chances at winning a title, and you never know when you will be back in the hunt. Just ask Peyton Manning the next time you see him in New Orleans.

The window of opportunity is getting smaller if you intend on winning another Super Bowl with Brees.

I’m not ungrateful or complaining too much about this season. The Saints made the playoffs all right, but we should have been a top two or three seed with home field.

The South has risen again. Carolina has arrived with a top-ranked defense. Atlanta can’t be that bad two years in a row. And Tampa Bay has a legitimate NFL head coach in Lovie Smith, who knows how to build a defense too.

Get some rest over the Super Bowl build-up. Enjoy the game and all the hoopla in New York. Good luck with the draft. I hope to see you on another team flight soon.

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Best Regards,

Rick Sarro

Saints fan since 1967