Saints coach accepts blame
Sean Payton calls a reverse that leads to a late fumble. "That was a mistake by me," he says.
By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published December 3, 2007
NEW ORLEANS - Just before Bucs coach Jon Gruden made the gutsy decision that won the game, Saints coach Sean Payton made the play call that lost it.
Rather than the big gain Payton envisioned, the call resulted in a late fumble - the Saints' only turnover - that gave the Bucs one last chance.
Payton admitted afterward that the play, being called the Superdome Special, was a mistake.
"That was a disappointing loss and probably the worst job I have done as a head coach since I have been here," said Payton, in his second season in New Orleans. "Obviously, I regret the play call that resulted in a fumble that cost us the game."
Payton, the 2006 NFL coach of the year, calls the offensive plays. With his team leading 23-20 with 3:36 left, the Saints faced second and 10 at their 49. Rather than be conservative, Payton went with a gadget play.
Running back Reggie Bush, moving to his left, took the handoff from quarterback Drew Brees. Rather than tuck the ball and run, Bush flipped it to receiver Devery Henderson. The ball was slightly behind Henderson, who bobbled it.
The ball - and the game - hit the ground.
"We thought it gave us a chance to break one open," Payton said. "We just didn't handle the toss well enough. That's my fault. I shouldn't have called the play in that situation. I knew we were in a position to get a first down and possibly run out the clock.
"That was a mistake by me."
Bucs defensive tackle Jovan Haye recovered at the Saints 37. He did not expect a reverse but got penetration and read the play in the backfield as it unfolded.
"I saw Reggie cross my face, and I saw his feet start to slow down, so I thought, 'You know what? It might be a throwback,'" Haye said. "I saw him throw the ball, and I guess whoever he was throwing the ball to wasn't ready for it, because it was on the ground."
Similar to Payton, Haye faced a difficult decision. Unlike Payton, he made the safe choice.
"I decided to dive on it," Haye said. "I was going to pick it up, try to scoop it, but I said, 'Let's be safe.'"
The Bucs scored the winning touchdown on a 4-yard pass from Luke McCown to tight end Jerramy Stevens with 14 seconds left, four plays after converting on fourth and 1.
The Bucs' gamble paid off. The Saints' did not.
After the game, Bush sat at his locker in full uniform, crestfallen. He held his head in his hands. He declined, through a team representative, to speak with reporters.
Henderson had no comment.
Whether the reverse would have turned into the big play Payton envisioned, no one will know. Once the ball hit the ground, the play broke down.
"That's the last play I expected," Haye said. "I'm not going to question their play calling. I'm just glad I was able to come up with a fumble, change the game late."