How much faith does a coach have to have in his quarterback to do what Sean Payton did on fourth down against the Panthers Sunday? More than he should have, apparently, because it didn’t work. If the Panthers had come back to win the game, Payton would have been subjected to the biggest roasting a head coach has ever received. On fourth-and-two, Payton faced a choice between punting or going for a first down. Punting would have likely pinned Carolina at least 80 yards from a go-ahead touchdown, while going for the first down would have allowed New Orleans to run out the clock. The down side of going for it, of course, was that failure would have given the Panthers a much shorter path to the end zone.
Which is how it turned out. Carolina was able to pressure Drew Brees enough to force a rare errant pass, which Mike Adams promptly intercepted. The interception, of course, did more harm than good, but the Panthers were still closer to the end zone than they would have been if the Saints had punted. Cam Newton was able to drive Carolina as close as a first down on the New Orleans 21 — raising the question of how close they could have gotten if Adams had let his interception fall to the ground — but they got no closer, and the Saints advanced.
Still, the cool thing about this entire game was Payton deciding to go for it. I admit that in the moment, it seemed like the dumbest decision in the history of sports. I can’t even imagine how many strokes I would have had if I was a Saints fan. And if Carolina wins that game, Payton could have been subjected to anything from being fired to being indicted for point-shaving. In terms of risk/reward, it was like trying to make it one more exit when your gas gauge has been on empty for 70 miles.
But Payton was willing to throw all logic and analysis down the drain; he trusted his quarterback. What other coach would do that, and what other quarterback would a coach do it for? I could picture Brees and Payton on the sideline like Leo and Kate in Titanic. Brees says, “Do you trust me?” Payton responds, “Yes, I trust you,” as the music reaching a crescendo in the background. Beautiful scene, isn’t it?
Well, maybe that’s not a good example. It worked out better for the Saints than it did for the Jack and others on the ship. But it almost didn’t. Maybe it was like Aladdin, where Brees is Aladdin and he and Payton is Princess Jasmine. The two jump onto Brees’ magic carpet and they sing “A Whole New World” together as Brees throws a touchdown pass. That would have been such a cool ending. What a thrilling chase, in a wondrous place, for Sean and Brees.
Alright, maybe not Aladdin. What about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Brees is Harrison Ford, of course. He has to take a leap of faith to walk across the canyon, just after that the walls start caving in, things blow up, the girl falls into the chasm, and the bad guy turns into a pile of dust. Yet, somehow, Harrison Ford walks out and everything is cool at the end. Yeah, it was exactly like that. Somebody must have given Payton a secret treasure map before the game and told him he had to take a leap of faith to win the game. Speaking of Payton, this makes him Sean Connery in this scenaro. It’s cool, because that means he used to be James Bond. Which is why he could afford to gamble, because he knew he was walking off with the girl afterwards either way.
But this wasn’t a movie, this was real life. Well, it was sports, but that’s sort of real. And this was a coach willing to risk an entire season on his faith in his quarterback. Regardless of whether it worked or not, there’s a beauty in that that sports, and the world in general, could use more of.