Saints suffer from a bad call and bad play-calling; Pats expose Chiefs D


New Orleans has every right to be upset, but should also look in the mirror. Meanwhile, Brady carves up Kansas City’s vanilla defense.

The Saints outsmarted themselves. The Chiefs weren’t smart enough.

Two different ways to lose a game. Both equally frustrating.

In New Orleans, the talk will be about Bill Vinovich’s crew missing a blatant pass interference call on Nickell Robey-Coleman. While that’s justified, the ire of Saints fans should also be directed at New Orleans coach Sean Payton and his inability to see the obvious.

Payton has fallen for Taysom Hill the way high school kids fall madly in love. Hill is an athletic dynamo but hardly a quarterback in the same stratosphere of Drew Brees. Yet three different times, the Saints replaced their future first-ballot Hall of Famer with Hill. The result was two yards gained and a fumble (recovered by New Orleans).

Think of it form this perspective: Brees is likely the MVP runner-up. If you’re Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who do you want to see dropping back? After the first two plays by Hill, Brees came back behind center and salvaged touchdown. However, on Hill’s third foray into playing quarterback on the afternoon, the Saints were nursing a 20-17 lead deep in the third quarter.

New Orleans had a first down at the 50-yard line, badly needing to score to keep the Rams at bay. Brees can’t be a spectator on that play and this is not the time to get cute with Hill. Not with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

Payton will always be beloved and defended in New Orleans. He won the franchise its first and only Super Bowl in 2009 after the team was rancid for much of its history. The Saints are indebted to Payton for all time, but there are those within the organization who privately believe he often gets too cute. The nonsense with Hill is a prime example.

Likewise, a first-down pass at the the 1:58 mark — only two downs before the terrible non-call that the league admitted was blown — allowed the Rams to save a timeout for their game-tying drive in regulation. Ultimately, the Saints lost because of a non-call that will be a sore point on Bourbon Street for decades to come. Still, New Orleans can’t overlook some questionable decision-making by a veteran head coach who ought to know better.

As for Kansas City, not smart enough doesn’t begin to do justice the effort of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. Throughout his six years with the Chiefs, a consistent complaint in the area has been his inability to be flexible in scheme. This season has been no different, with Kansas City playing a predominantly man look that often results in Cover 2 Man Under (two deep safeties, man coverage underneath).

Trying to protect fourth-quarter leads of 21-17 and 28-24, Sutton sat in that predictable shell while quarterback Tom Brady picked apart a suspect defense.

The Chiefs got no pressure all night, failing to sack Brady once after getting to Andrew Luck three times a week ago. Brady found wide receiver Julian Edelman  and tight end Rob Gronkowski time and again on third down. In overtime, the Patriots faced three consecutive third-and-10 situations. All three times, Sutton failed to call for a blitz, stunt, twist or zone look. It was man-to-man, no rush, no surprises. The results? 50 yards gained on two catches by Edelman and one by Gronkowski.

As a result, Chiefs fans watched as the Patriots went to their ninth Super Bowl with Brady and coach Bill Belichick, more than twice as many as any other quarterback-coach combination.

Kansas City clearly has a superstar in Patrick Mahomes and one of the league’s best coaches in Andy Reid. Yet it was its 31st-ranked defense that proved its undoing repeatedly against better teams. This season, the Chiefs allowed 54 points to the Rams, 38 to Seattle, 29 to the Chargers, and 80 to the Patriots across two meetings. In all those games, Kansas City played man with overmatched defenders, rarely blitzing.

For the Rams and Patriots, there is another week to play for a variety of reasons. For the Chiefs and Saints, it’s home to ponder what could have been.

Hopefully both start with a long look in the mirror.

Power rankings

Top 10 Conference Championship Games since merger

1. 1981 NFC Championship – Dwight Clark makes The Catch, igniting the 49er dynasty
2. 1986 AFC Championship – John Elway beats the Browns with The Drive
3. 1998 NFC Championship – Gary Anderson misses and the Falcons stun the Vikings
4. 2006 AFC Championship – Peyton Manning stages a furious rally to down New England
5. 1987 AFC Championship – Earnest Byner loses the ball, and the Broncos win again
6. 2014 NFC Championship – Seattle storms back to take down the Packers in epic fashion
7. 2007 NFC Championship – In sub-zero temps, the Giants beat Green Bay in Lambeau
8. 1990 NFC Championship – Leonard Marshall crushes Joe Montana, denies three-peat
9. 2009 NFC Championship – The Saints top Brett Favre and the Vikings in an OT thriller
10. 1994 AFC Championship – Chargers hold off Steelers at the goal line in Three Rivers


“They challenged us. They came up, played man. Not a lot of teams have this year, and they put people in our face to see how we responded. The first half we struggled. We couldn’t make anything happen.”

– Patrick Mahomes on Kansas City’s early offensive struggles

Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense was shut out over the first half before putting on a furious rally, scoring 31 points in the second half. Still, one wonders what went on in Kansas City this week. The Patriots showed a ton of Cover 0 pressure when the foes met in Week 6. Somehow, the Chiefs were completely caught off-guard by it on Sunday.


Matt Verderame and Josh Hill record a new episode of Stacking The Box every Sunday, this week breaking down the conference championships and previewing Super Bowl LIII. Make sure to download and subscribe on iTunes!

Random stat

The Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions are the only four teams to never play in a Super Bowl.

Only Houston has never reached a conference title game.

Info learned this week

1. NFL’s priority must be better officiating

This is a take-off from the main column, but it deserves it’s own space.

The NFL can’t allow horrendous officiating to get in the way of an otherwise brilliant afternoon and evening of football. While it needs to be better understood by some that human error happens, there should be safeguards in place for when egregious penalties are missed. With the technology available today, there’s no reason for a team to go home feeling as though it was blatantly cheated.

Every sport has its issues. The NFL has many, ranging from CTE and concussions to non-guaranteed contracts and incoherent rules. That said, nothing needs to be fixed more than the officials, which seem to be at an all-time high for justified scrutiny.

Make no mistake, there’s no easy answer. Perhaps a good first start would be eliminating the three crews that grade out the worst and replacing them with younger men and women who have proven themselves at lower levels. Just an idea.

2. Ravens, Harbaugh smart to extend contract

The rare win-win. For the Baltimore Ravens and John Harbaugh, agreeing on a contract extension is the correct move for a bevy of reasons.

For the team, it gets both continuity and the knowledge that a proven head coach is leading the Ravens into the next era with Lamar Jackson. Jackson benefits from having the same staff, something other second-year quarterbacks, including Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Sam Rosen, aren’t enjoying.

For Harbaugh, he stays in a familiar spot that teems with positives. Baltimore is a strong organization led by owner Steve Bisciotti. The Ravens don’t make foolish splashes in free agency and have generally drafted well, keeping them in a contention window for years on end.

After weeks of being uncertain about whether Harbaugh would return to Baltimore, both sides did what’s best for their futures.

3. Kareem Hunt expected to have multiple suitors

The last time we saw Kareem Hunt, he was conducting an ill-advised interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters. His next appearance might be when he signs on with his second NFL team.

Hunt was suspended indefinitely in November following the release of a TMZ video depicting him shoving and kicking a 19-year-old woman. The Chiefs released him that same day, and although he’s expected to be banned for a portion of the 2019 season, Hunt is expected to be courted by multiple teams. It’s also believed that Hunt’s punishment will be sorted out by the time we hit free agency on March 11.

The 23-year-old led the league in rushing as a rookie in 2017 and was well on his way to a second Pro Bowl season with Kansas City this year before being cut. One team to watch closely is the Chicago Bears. Head coach Matt Nagy was asked specifically about Hunt and didn’t rule out the possibility of signing Hunt, with Nagy having coached Hunt as a rookie.

4. Both free agency and the draft expected to be defense-heavy

Free agency and the draft compliment each other. Specifically, if a draft is heavy in one position, free agents tend to be slow-played at that spot.

This year, both free agency and the draft are heavy on defensive stars. In other words, expect many of the second and third-tier players to sit on the market, with franchises looking to get cheaper, younger starters come April’s draft.

In Daniel Jeremiah’s first mock draft, 20 of the 32 first-round picks are defensive players. In comparison, only three quarterbacks (Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray) are going in the first 32, and Haskins is the only top-10 signal caller.

Looking at those first 10 picks, only the Jaguars, Bills and Broncos are likely to skew offensively. If there isn’t a quarterback those teams like in their spots, keep an eye on them to be trade-down candidates.

5. Snyder buys $100 million yacht; wants taxpayer funding for stadium

The Redskins are being led by the morally blind. Owner Daniel Snyder recently purchased a yacht for $100 million that includes an IMAX movie theater, but he’s crying poor when it comes to securing a new building for his football team. This, of course, is incredibly tone deaf, especially when one considers that thousands are currently furloughed due to the government shutdown.

Snyder has been publicly pining for a new building to replace FedEx Field, which was opened in 1997. We wrote about the story in this space a few weeks ago, detailing how abysmal Snyder and the Redskins have been since he bought the franchise in 1999.

Considering the lack of success under Snyder and the city’s considerable ire towards him, getting a dime of taxpayer funding seems a pipe dream.

History lesson

The only venue to ever host consecutive Super Bowls is the Orange Bowl in Miami.

The famed stadium saw both the second and third editions, with the Packers beating the Raiders, 33-14, and then the Jets pulling a historic upset over the Colts, 16-7.

Parting shot

The Dolphins and Bengals were the last two teams to fill their coaching vacancies. There’s a reason for that.

Miami and Cincinnati have notoriously been losers for years, largely because ownership has been a mess. Coaching prospects see that, which is why Stephen Ross has never hired a head coach with previous experience, and why Mike Brown has done so once — Bruce Coslet in 1996.

There are other factors as well. The Bengals have been cheap since Brown took over the team, refusing the shell out money for high-profile coaches or free agents. If you want to know who the Bengals will hire, find out who is willing to take the least. In this case, it’s Zac Taylor.

In Miami, Ross has a nasty habit of being disinterested in football matters. He’s been interested in both Harbaugh brothers over the years as a Michigan man, but has struck out both times. In each case, other franchises with more invested owners have landed their men.

Things continually change in Miami, and they seldom do in Cincinnati. Yet both franchises have something in common; they lose.

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