I don’t care what anybody says, the Saints’ shocking loss at Cleveland on Sunday came down to one poor coaching decision. You remember, less than two minutes remained in the game, and the Saints had the ball with a third and five at the Browns’ 31-yard line. That was well within the range of kicker Shayne Graham, so why not hand the ball off tackle to Mark Ingram, who had been running well all day? Even if you don’t make the first down, Ingram could have picked up at least two or three to give Graham a 44-yard attempt, well within his comfort zone.
But, no, Sean Payton outsmarted himself again and called a pass play in which four things can happen and three of them are bad: incompletion, interception or sack, which is what happened when Pierre Thomas apparently missed a blocking assignment. That put the ball back on the 38-yard line and forced a punt. Browns QB Brian Hoyer probably watched the video of how Matt Ryan carved up the Saints’ pass defense last week, and proceeded to do the same thing. Patrick Robinson was called for pass interference, but on the other side of the field, the Cleveland receiver was left wide open on a busted assignment, and, to quote the famed sporting philosopher Yogi Berra, it was “déjà vu all over again.”
Rob Ryan’s pass defense over two games now has the dubious stat line of allowing four touchdowns, 652 total yards and a completion percentage of 65 percent. By the way, that comes with zero intereceptions from a secondary that was supposed to be a strength this year. If it takes three years to judge a draft pick, then Robinson has now taken two games to convince everyone that he’s a liability. By the way, I didn’t hear Jairus Byrd’s name mentioned very much on Sunday, and ditto strong safety Kenny Vaccaro. Do they still have the sophomore jinx?
Even without the Saints stumbling out of the gate, last week was painful enough in the NFL, which has endured much criticism for Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice affair. We said here when it happened that a two-game suspension for domestic abuse was lighter than light, but Goodell responded this week that the penalty came after discussions with Rice and his victim/wife. The commish said he did not want to unduly embarrass Mrs. Rice. I’ve seen this movie before. No good deed goes unpunished! Rice is a thug, and he deserved a far heavier penality, even if his wife comes across as a bit less than Little Mary Sunshine.
The Rice deal is bad enough, but the NFL was heavily penalized last week in the public eye for excessive piling on. RB Adrian Peterson of Minnesota, who has always been held up as a paragon of integrity and professionalism, has been indicted for hitting his son with a switch. I do not know if the “switch” was a four-foot wagon tongue or if it was pulled off a weeping willow tree, which I experienced a couple times in my own youth. But the ensuing chatter has reminded us that last year, another of Peterson’s sons was murdered, allegedly by the mother’s live-in boyfriend. Peterson had only learned he was the boy’s father two months before his death and had been planning to meet him. ESPN quoted Peterson as saying he was now “more careful to cherish his time with the four children who don't live with him.” That doesn’t count a 3-year-old son with a woman Peterson just married on July 19.
And we haven’t even mentioned the sordid case of Carolina’s Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy who was on the inactive list for Sunday's game against the Lions. Hardy was found guilty in July by a Mecklenburg County judge of assaulting and threatening his former girlfriend.
What is happening to the game I love? Drug suspensions are taken for granted as more than twenty players are now on some form of suspension ranging from two games to one year. Apologists can rationalize and say it's always been there and blame the proliferation of ubiquitous social networking and the fact that nobody can escape their transgressions any more. But since today's athlete has grown up with that scrutiny they should be more mindful of it. You can wring your hands about the Saints’ 0-2 start, but they will straighten out their problems. I am more concerned about what is happening to the game I love, and I don’t have an answer.