NEW ORLEANS -- During their time together in New Orleans since 2006, fourth-and-goal from the opponent's 1 truly has been the lonnnnngest yard for Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees.
It came back to haunt them again late in the first half of Sunday's dramatic 16-14 victory against the self-destructive Tampa Bay Buccaneers at rain-soaked Raymond James Stadium.
Let's go to the NFL official game summary to set the scene. Leading 10-7 at the 2-minute warning, the Saints are facing a second-and-6 from the Buccaneers 30:
(1:56) D.Brees pass deep middle to J.Graham for 30 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The Replay Assistant challenged the runner broke the plane ruling, and the play was REVERSED.
D.Brees pass deep middle to J.Graham to TB 1 for 29 yards (D.Goldson).
Timeout #2 by NO at 01:23.
1-1-TB 1 (1:23) D.Brees pass incomplete short middle.
Timeout #2 by TB at 01:17. Injury Timeout Inside 2:00
2-1-TB 1 (1:17) M.Ingram left end to TB 2 for -1 yards (D.Goldson, M.Foster).
Timeout #3 by TB at 01:12.
3-2-TB 2 (1:12) P.Thomas left tackle to TB 2 for no gain (D.Revis, A.Black).
Timeout #3 by NO at 00:22.
4-2-TB 2 (:22) (Field Goal formation) G.Hartley 20 yard field goal is GOOD, NULLIFIED by Penalty, Center-J.Drescher, Holder-L.McCown.
PENALTY on TB-L.Johnson, Defensive Offside, 1 yard, enforced at TB 2 - No Play.
(:20) M.Ingram left end to TB 1 for no gain (L.David, M.Foster).
The Replay Assistant challenged the runner broke the plane ruling, and the play was Upheld.
... No touchdown. Bucs take over on downs at their 1.
The first half ended on a sneak by Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman with the Saints still clinging to a 10-7 lead.
In a nutshell, Payton took three points off the board and sent Brees and the offense back on the field in pursuit of a touchdown from the Buccaneers 1.
Some say you should never take points off the board. I'm of the ilk never say never. Each situation is different. That said, I have no problem with the decision. I fault the play call and the use of running back Mark Ingram to pick up the longest yard. By the way, the Bucs stopped Ingram with only 10 defenders on the field.
Know this: Payton now is one of seven on fourth-and-goal from the opponent's 1-yard line since 2006 with Brees at quarterback, according to Pro-Football-reference.com.
Only once have the Saints under Payton scored on this down and distance from that spot on the field, that coming on a Deuce McAllister 1-yard run against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 26, 2008, at Wembley Stadium in merry ol' England. In other words, the Saints/Payton are still looking to negotiate the lonnnnngest yard on American soil.
Take a peek at the other six attempts.
Typically, Payton and his staff will use the open week to self scout, chart tendencies and objectively critique the way they are doing things on offense, defense and special teams. Perhaps they should go inside the playbook now. The failure to score before halftime against Tampa Bay is a microcosm of a much bigger problem. Through two games, the Saints rank dead last in the NFL in red zone efficiency, or scoring touchdowns inside the opponent's 20-yard line (14.25 percent).
There's a reason why Saints owner Tom Benson is paying Payton $8 million annually. He's a proven winner (see Super Bowl XLIV) and is widely regarded as one of the NFL's most brilliant offensive minds. You'll get no argument here.
Yet for some reason the Saints' offense under Payton's watch has had a devil of a time negotiating the lonnnnngest yard.
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