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By John McMullen, NFL Editor - Archive - Email
Nothing is a Brees without your head coach
It's safe to say Payton wasn't exactly happy watching his team implode on Thursday night.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If you take the time to read Gary Myers' excellent book "Coaching Confidential," you'll find out that deposed New Orleans coach Sean Payton developed quite the ego after winning Super Bowl XLIV.

Payton, of course, was suspended for the entire 2012 season by the NFL for his alleged cover-up of a bounty program which rewarded defenders for deliberately attempting to knock opposing players out of games.

Plenty of others were caught up as well with then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams taking the hardest hit for doling out the funds for big hits, and current Saints interim coach Joe Vitt having to sit out six games for his part in the fiasco.

These days Payton spends most of his time at his home in the Dallas area, serving as the offensive coordinator for his son Connor's sixth-grade team while contemplating 2013.

It's safe to say Payton wasn't exactly happy watching his team implode on Thursday night in Atlanta but if Myers' description of Payton is even mildly accurate, it's also not hard to imagine a wry smile emanating from the coach, secure in the knowledge New Orleans needs him to succeed.

The most puzzling part of the Falcons' 23-13 statement win on Thursday was the play of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw a career-high five interceptions and saw his remarkable consecutive games streak with a touchdown pass end at 54 games.

Universally regarded as one of the smartest signal-callers in the game, Brees played like a raw rookie in the Georgia Dome, forcing the ball into coverage time and time again, throwing across his body and mismanaging the clock.

His most egregious error came in the warnings second of the first half with New Orleans trailing 17-7.

With just 45 seconds left to play before intermission and no timeouts remaining, Brees hit scatback Darren Sproles for a 12-yards gain down to the Atlanta 5-yard line.

Instead of spiking the ball or at least exhibiting a sense of urgency, Brees had his team in a loose huddle and took the next snap with only 12 ticks remaining. To make matters worse, the former MVP checked down in the middle of the field to Sproles, who was tackled at the two as time expired.

A possible seven points and an almost assured three turned into nothing for New Orleans as time expired.

If Mark Sanchez had done the same thing in New York or Michael Vick in Philadelphia, it's safe to say they would be eviscerated today.

Heck if Andrew Luck, RG3 or any of the other rookie quarterbacks starting did the same thing, journalists across the country would be scouring the thesaurus for the best synonym for dumb and describing how -- insert team here -- will never win the Super Bowl with a quarterback who can't handle something so simple.

Perhaps the real difference between Brees and most quarterbacks, besides the four All-Pro nods and Super Bowl crown, is the way he handles a faux pas after the fact.

"Honestly I thought we had more time than we did," Brees said candidly. "Last time I looked up at the clock I saw 17 seconds so I thought we had time to throw one underneath and get up there and clock it. Unfortunately the clock was down to seven by the time I looked back up at it after getting the completion and it wasn't enough time to get a spike."

"That's my mistake. That can't happen. We've got points, at least three, and definitely another shot at the end zone so that was on me. That can't happen."

Leadership is the most important intangible for any quarterback and Brees never passes the buck or points at others.

"I felt like we managed the clock all the way down and then unfortunately once we got inside the 10 just lost track of it," Brees said. "I thought I had more time."

Plenty of analysts believe the whole scenario would never have played out with Payton in Brees' ear but that belief is an indirect indictment of the entire Saints coaching staff.

After all, thinking no one on the New Orleans sideline is lucid enough to understand something that's second nature to virtually anyone who has ever played the game is ludicrous.

I'll stick with Occam's razor -- sometimes the simplest explanation is the correct one.

Brees had a bad night in Atlanta.

It happens to us all. It happens to Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and it happened to Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino.

It happens to the great quarterbacks a whole lot less, though.

"I felt as good coming into this game as I have all season about the passing game about throwing it," Brees said. "It doesn't really matter how (the interceptions) happened though the responsibility is mine. I pride myself on being a great decision maker and the guy that is going to help us win the game and not be a detriment and turn the ball over like that."

At the risk of inflating Payton's ego even more we can all admit the Saints need their head coach back to compete at the highest level again but not because of what happened on Thursday night.

New Orleans needs the continuity Payton provides and his brilliant game planning skills -- things that can help lessen the number of bad days not eliminate them.

"A couple of critical mistakes today ended up costing us the game and I'm okay saying that because I have to hold myself accountable," Brees said. "I've made some critical mistakes in the last few weeks and they have cost us dearly. I felt like our team really played their butt off in all phases. Were there mistakes made yes, but we played well enough to win."