Payton sends message to Graham, team

NEW ORLEANS -- Sean Payton has talked in the past about the importance of "creating a crisis" to get his team's attention. It's something he learned from mentor Bill Parcells and a tact he used in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIV when he gave some of his New Orleans Saints players a tongue-lashing for arriving late to a meeting.

Well, whether he wanted it or not, Payton got his crisis on Friday night in one of the uglier New Orleans Saints outings I can ever remember -- preseason or otherwise.

The Saints committed 22 penalties, which led to a Payton postgame tirade that channeled some of former Saints coach Jim Mora's classic rants.

And the ugliest moment of all came during a sideline shouting match between Payton and star tight end Jimmy Graham after Graham was twice penalized for dunking after touchdowns.

It was a disturbing moment. Payton's reaction was expected -- players naturally get chewed out after penalties. It's why some of us were following Payton with our binoculars from up in the press box after Graham jogged off the field.

But Graham's emotional reaction was unexpected. As veteran teammate Zach Strief said, Graham had to know the tongue-lashing was coming. But as Strief also said, Graham is an emotional player who obviously feels strongly about protesting the new anti-dunking rule that took away one of his signature emotional outlets.

Graham chose to avoid the media on Friday night, exiting the locker room as reporters arrived. So I won't try to put any words in his mouth or even try to guess whether his frustration goes beyond his thoughts on the NFL's new penalty.

But I've always respected Graham as a player and a person, as a hard and determined worker and as a good locker-room guy and favorite of coaches. So I don't anticipate him allowing this issue to fester any more than it already has.

As for the issue of the Saints' sloppy play -- those 20 other penalties that had nothing to do with dunking -- I'll rank that as mildly disturbing.

It's not something we've seen from the Saints consistently in the past. They have a smart, veteran team for the most part, with a proven, veteran coaching staff.

And you can be absolutely certain that the players and coaches will be sent a message through more tirades to come behind closed doors.

"We'll find ourselves at the short end of a game and then wonder about our offseason goals and what happened. And we won't know exactly when it happened," Payton said, making it clear that there's nothing harmless about a crisis in Week 2 of the preseason.

"We'll say, ‘Hey, when we get to the regular season, it'll clean itself up,'" Payton said. "That's silliness."