METAIRIE, La. – Sean Payton didn't agree with the notion that the New Orleans Saints were actively trying to run up the score late in their 31-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers last year – as coach Ron Rivera and linebacker Thomas Davis both suggested on Thursday.
But Payton stressed that the Saints don't apologize for continuing to try and move the football late in games, knowing how quickly comebacks can occur in the NFL.
"Listen, I’ve read some of it. I think that, honestly, I really can’t look at situations where I felt like [it happened],” Payton said. “I mean, what's that score? In our league, what is it? I've seen a 28-point lead turn into a loss when I was at New York in the wild-card game at San Francisco (actually 24 points following the 2004 season).
“And so, you’re wanting to function with your guys in there. Now, sometimes that might mean running the ball and sometimes that might mean throwing the football. But I can’t ever recall just looking at something saying, ‘Well, it’s a division rival or something and we want to …’ We're not in the business of doing that. We're in the business of being smart, obviously our players being healthy, all those things. And so it's too important. ...
"Each scenario’s different. But we're trying to move the football. And that's something we're not apologizing for. And yet, I think each game is different. You know, paying attention to the game and how it's unfolding."
It’s unclear what exactly got the Panthers so riled up about last year’s game. The Saints were leading 24-6 when they took over possession with 13:38 remaining – which seems way too early to expect them to run out the clock. The Saints went on an eight-play touchdown drive to increase their lead to 31-6.
Then after Carolina closed within 31-13, the Saints took over with 5:14 remaining. After running for zero yards on first down, quarterback Drew Brees was sacked on second down. After a delay of game penalty, Brees threw a dump-off pass on third-and-24. Perhaps that’s the series that bothered the Panthers.
If the Saints needed proof of why it’s dangerous to let up, they got it last week at Pittsburgh. The Saints were leading 35-16 late in the fourth quarter before the Steelers scored 16 points in the final 2:34 to close the gap to 35-32.