NEW ORLEANS â€“ Unquestionably, the New Orleans Saints missed their fallen leader in Sundayâ€™s 26-20 loss to the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
But donâ€™t lay the disappointing defeat at the feet of injured Coach Sean Payton. His sideline accident did not cause the Black and Gold to lose an important divisional and conference game to an opponent that was coming off a 48-3 road loss in San Francisco.
The victory enabled the Buccaneers (4-2) to take over the lead in the NFC South and essentially drop the Saints (4-2) three full games behind the undefeated Green Bay Packers (6-0) in the race for the No. 1 seeding in the NFC.
First, an update on Paytonâ€™s injury (updated Monday at noon):
- Payton had surgeryÂ Monday to repair a broken left tibia and torn left medial collateral ligament (MCL). Second-year tight end Jimmy Graham accidentally undercut the legs of the head coach on the sideline on the Saintsâ€™ third play from scrimmage.
Payton was forced to watch the remainder of the first half from the bench with a brace on his left knee and the second half from inside the Saintsâ€™ training room, leaving the head coaching duties to Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt.
Back to the game.
- Payton didnâ€™t commit four turnovers, three coming on interceptions thrown by quarterback Drew Brees, the last coming on fourth-and-2 from the Buccaneersâ€™ 4 in the end zone with 3:16 remaining.
- Payton didnâ€™t cause zero takeaways by his defense.
- Payton didnâ€™t score just one touchdown in four trips inside the red zone.
- Payton didnâ€™t allow Buccaneersâ€™ wide receiver Arrelious Benn to roam free in the secondary and score on a 65-yard pass from quarterback Josh Freeman.
- Payton didnâ€™t allow Buccaneersâ€™ running back Earnest Graham to rush for 109 yards on 17 carries, including a 34-yard jaunt in the second quarter.
- Payton had nothing to do with the Saintsâ€™ top rusher gaining a measly 22 yards (Mark Ingram), one more rushing yard than Brees.
- Payton didnâ€™t commit seven penalties for minus-53 yards.
- Payton wasnâ€™t on the field when the Saintsâ€™ defense failed to stop the Buccaneers from running out the final 3:21 of the game clock.
An injured Payton is no excuse for Sundayâ€™s overall shoddy performance.
The Black and Gold still had Brees, a gifted quarterback and inspirational leader who, one day, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They had two former NFL head coaches on the sideline in Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams and Vitt, though neither one managed the clock correctly prior to the two-minute warning when precious seconds were wasted on a challenge that failed.
Iâ€™ve said it before and I will say it again: The 2011 New Orleans Saints cannot solely rely on the late heroics of Captain Comeback. They will go as far as their defense takes them this season. Through six games, the defense has forced a meager six takeaways compared to 13 giveaways for a minus-7 turnover differential.
Note to Who Dat Nation: Losing Sunday on the road doesnâ€™t mean the sky is falling.
Consider: Since 1990, teams have played three consecutive games on the road 112 times. Teams finished 3-0 only nine times.
Nor does Sundayâ€™s loss mean the Buccaneers have Paytonâ€™s number, although they now lead 6-5 in the series since his arrival in 2006 and have won three of the last four games between the teams.
It merely means Paytonâ€™s injured left leg is not the only thing that the Saints need to fix this week in their preparation to play host to the winless Indianapolis Colts (0-6) next Sunday night on national television.
Now, losing at home to the Peyton Manning-less Colts would be cause for concern and further add insult to Paytonâ€™s injury.
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