NEW ORLEANS -- As soon as the question was asked, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton interjected, “I know what you’re thinking.”
He knew what the fans in the Caesars Superdome were thinking, too, when they booed his decisions to throw the ball during the final minutes of Sunday’s improbable 36-27 win instead of running out the clock and forcing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to burn their timeouts.
But Payton was unapologetic about taking a “super, super aggressive” approach, knowing quarterback Tom Brady was waiting on the other sideline. And Payton couldn’t resist taking a jab at the home fans in the process.
“And I think our crowd needs to be a little louder, if you want to ask me, on third down,” Payton said. “We’ve had two home games that have been unremarkable if you want to know the truth.”
Here was the scenario:
The Saints were trailing 27-26 with two minutes remaining, facing a first-and-goal from Tampa Bay’s 9-yard line with backup quarterback Trevor Siemian behind center. The Buccaneers had two timeouts left.
If the Saints had attempted three straight run plays against Tampa Bay’s No. 1-ranked run defense, then kicked a field goal, they would have taken a 29-27 lead with about 1:05 remaining and the Buccaneers out of timeouts.
Instead, the Saints attempted three straight passes. But the first two fell incomplete and the third gained 4 yards. So they kicked a field goal, and Tampa Bay took over with 1:41 remaining and one timeout.
The point was ultimately moot, though, since Brady threw an interception two plays later that Saints defensive back P.J. Williams returned 40 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
“Here’s the thing,” Payton explained. “They got time -- they got an eternity. I’m thinking, ‘Score.’
“I hear all the time, ‘You can’t leave Brady time on the clock.’ So there’s two methods. We could eat up time and kick a field goal, and he’s got plenty of time to get his team back in field goal range. The perfect scenario is you eat up clock and you score. Well, that’s easier said than done. In other words, ‘Run, run, score on third down.’ Well, I’m thinking of scoring on any down. Because when you look at the time and you do studies, him having to come back and kick a field goal is much easier than him having to come back and score.
“Obviously I don’t want to throw an incomplete pass, I don’t. And yet everything about today’s approach was gonna be super, super aggressive. ... I’m always curious as a playcaller when I hear the announcers say, ‘You want to eat up as much time as possible and then score.’ Well then, I want to know those three plays.”
Indeed, Payton took an aggressive approach from start to finish Sunday, attempting three fourth-down conversions, succeeding on two. The Saints also attempted a season-high 39 passes with the combination of starter Jameis Winston and Siemian -- even though Winston left the game early in the second quarter with a left knee injury.
New Orleans' defense, meanwhile, continued to be the team’s driving force, with three turnovers (two interceptions and a sack-fumble against Brady).
“You gotta relish these moments,” said Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who forced the fumble. “You gotta love that our confidence is building on defense each and every game. To go against one of the greatest to ever be in the quarterback position and be able to finish the game like that, you gotta love it.”
Williams also didn’t shy away from how special it was to make a play of that magnitude against Brady. He said he and his family were talking the other day about wanting to bring home a “Brady ball.”
The Saints allowed two uncharacteristic deep touchdown passes while the Buccaneers rallied from behind in the second half (41 yards to Mike Evans behind cornerback Marshon Lattimore and 50 yards to a wide-open Cyril Grayson because of a miscommunication in coverage).
But Williams insisted that they relished the chance to make up for it on that game-clinching drive.
"We had the chance to win it, it was in our hands," said Williams, who said he was acting as a free player or “robber” on the play, reading Brady. “We were gonna do whatever we had to do to win the game.”