The New Orleans Saints throw out all of the rules

What a win this was for New Orleans over the defending champs. It doesn't matter who's playing quarterback here. Plus, Josh Allen turns it on again in Buffalo.

The natural instinct is to rip Sean Payton for such idiocy. The decision to throw the football in this situation makes zero sense.

Let’s recap.

With two minutes left, the New Orleans Saints had a first and goal from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ nine-yard line. They trailed by one point. The Bucs still had two timeouts. And… quarterback Trevor Siemian threw incomplete. All of four seconds came off the clock.

On second and goal, under pressure, Siemian threw incomplete again. All of three seconds came off the clock.

Hall-of-Famer Troy Aikman criticized the calls on the broadcast, echoing what most everyone in the stadium was thinking.

The Saints threw again on third and goal but at least completed this dump-off to force Tampa Bay to use a timeout. They then kicked the go-ahead, 23-yard field goal and handed the ball back to Tom Brady with 1 minute and 41 seconds left. Any other offense trying to function with a journeyman like Siemian rams the ball into a brick wall a few times to force Tampa Bay to use its timeouts.

This isn’t Justin Herbert and the Chargers throwing late at Arrowhead in Week 3.

This is Siemian. This is an injury-ravaged team lucky to be in the game.

So, once the win was complete — a 36-27 stunner over the defending champs — Payton knew the question was coming at his press conference.

His explanation just may change your mind, too.

“Here’s the thing,” Payton said. “They’ve got time. They’ve got an eternity. I’m thinking ‘score.’ I still haven’t met the person who’s got the formula. I hear all the time: ‘You can’t leave Brady time on the clock.’ So, there’s two methods. We could eat up time and kick a field goal and he’s got plenty of time to get his team back in field goal range. The perfect scenario is you eat up clock and you score. Well, that’s easier said than done.

“I’m thinking of scoring on any down. When you’re looking at the time and you do the studies, him having to come back and kick a field goal is much easier than him having to come back and score. Obviously, I don’t want to throw an incomplete pass. I don’t. And yet, everything about today’s approach was going to be super, super aggressive. I heard the fans. It is what it is. I’m always curious as a playcaller when the announcers say, ‘You want to eat up as much time as possible and then score.’ Well, then, I want to know those three plays.”

He’s right: There is no full-proof manual for handling this predicament.

But Week 8 in the NFL was yet another reminder that these Saints are just different.

No other rules apply. Everything we think about the sport is thrown out the window when it comes to Payton and a team that simply won’t give in. We can spend endless hours debating this quarterback vs. that quarterback. Scan the Saints roster and you won’t find many household names, either. Michael Thomas, the 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, remains sidelined. What this team is, though, makes it every bit as dangerous as a team with an All-Pro quarterback.

Even if that All-Pro is Tom Brady.

Nobody should’ve been too surprised to see what happened on the Buccaneers’ second play of the ensuing drive.

Veteran P.J. Williams stepped in front of Brady’s rocket to Chris Godwin and returned it 40 yards to the house. He broke through Leonard Fournette’s arms, zipped into the end zone and blew two emphatic kisses to the Superdome crowd.

In a deep-two shell, Williams was lined up at the right safety spot and read Brady all the way.

Not too long ago, a different Saints defensive back was making a colossal error in this same spot. Unlike Marcus Williams then, P.J. Williams played the ball (not the man) and the party was on:

Multiple reports indicate that Jameis Winston tore his ACL. He might’ve been in the smoky locker room to celebrate with his teammates — crutches ‘n all — but, by all accounts, he’s done. It’ll be Taysom Hill’s offense to run when he’s recovered from a concussion and, honestly, it doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback. Not here. We’ve seen Payton devise gameplans for Hill and Teddy Bridgewater and Winston and a rickety Drew Brees. Scoring points will not be a problem.

Above all, this a team that plays like it’s starving for a win. A half-decade of playoff heartbreak has poured constant gasoline on their fire. Recovering from the “Minneapolis Miracle” and Nickell Robey-Coleman’s uncalled pass interference and an overtime loss to Kirk Cousins and, of course, last year’s loss to Tampa Bay is not easy. If Jared Cook doesn’t fumble, those Saints might’ve been celebrating a Super Bowl triumph.

Instead, they lost. And Brees retired. And that loss felt like the end of an era.

Only, it wasn’t. Even as Brees declined, the Saints continued doling out huge contracts to players because they did not intend to reset and rebuild at any point. (Like the Steelers over in the AFC.)

No coaching staff and no team this generation has experienced such pain on the field — and they’ve found a way to use all of that pain for good.

This is a roster loaded with players dying to prove their worth.

We chatted with one, receiver Deonte Harris, for this feature at Go Long. Not too long ago, Harris bought a one-way ticket home to Baltimore. He was ready to quit the sport last month after his girlfriend had a miscarriage, one of his best friends tragically died and he was arrested for allegedy driving under the influence. On Sunday, Harris had a return for 36 yards and a 22-yard run on the team’s final field goal drive.

Harris, one of the smallest players in the NFL, has been overlooked his entire life. The chip on his shoulder is real.

Kevin White has been a certified bust of a wide receiver for a while now. Since going seventh overall to Chicago in 2015, he has played for four teams and has exactly zero career touchdown catches. On Sunday, he hauled in a 38-yard reception from Siemian to get the Saints’ offense cookin’ early.

Payton wasn’t kidding. Down to a third-string quarterback and a castoff receiver, he stayed aggressive as the playcaller. He had no choice, too, since the Bucs’ front completely eliminates opposing run games.

“I knew we’d have to throw to win,” Payton said.

Tight end Garrett Griffin, the pride of Air Force, had all of one career catch before Sunday. He caught all three of his targets for 30 yards.

On third and goal with 27 seconds left in the first half, it was immortal fullback Alex Armah beating linebacker Lavonte David to the flat for a touchdown. What happened next was understandable. This isn’t quite familiar territory for the five-year veteran with a whopping nine career receptions to his name. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Armah botched his first attempt at a spike before, then, stuffing the pigskin into the turf.

Armah was a defensive end and linebacker in college at West Georgia.

Payton couldn’t help himself when asked if there was a comfort level throwing to players like this.

“I don't know if anyone is going into the game saying they're comfortable throwing to Alex Armah.”

And then there was Williams, who had the conviction to read and react in a huge moment. These Bucs-Saints games are typically decided by late turnovers. The day before this win, Payton rewatched the Saints’ excruciating loss to the Bucs in the divisional round a year ago. It could not have been easy. Despite four turnovers, his team kept it close.

Now, they’re inching back toward another playoff moment.

Confidence is soaring after finding a way to beat Brady with Siemian.

Payton said this was just the second time in his 16 years coaching that he had to switch to another quarterback mid-game.

No, this isn’t a remake of the “Little Giants” by any means. The Saints do have stars sprinkled into this roster, of course.

Linebacker Demario Davis was a force again. He always is. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore can make No. 1 receivers disappear. And while running back Alvin Kamara was a nonfactor this game, he’s a major reason why it doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback in New Orleans, too. Kamara impacts the offense in an infinite number of ways. His lull-you-to-sleep play speed is unparalleled.

New Orleans (5-2) started this season by pounding the Green Bay Packers and have now outlasted the Bucs.

Whatever happens until January is nice and all. The Saints need the fifth time to be the charm in the playoffs.

Payton knows this, so Payton wasn’t shy at the mic.

He’ll continue to aim for touchdowns… and he wants the fans to step it up, too.

“I think our crowd needs to be a little louder, if you ask me, on third down. We’ve had two games that have been unremarkable if you want to know the truth.”

Go Long is a newsletter dedicated to enterprising pro football journalism. Free and paid subscriptions are both available. You can support this publication best by subscribing here:

Sneaky-good win

Through one quarter of play, Josh Allen had all of one passing yard. It didn’t take a set of hearing aids to notice the boo’s at Highmark Stadium when Sean McDermott trotted out the punting unit on a fourth and short, too.

Against the pathetic Miami Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills’ offense couldn’t do a damn thing through the first half.

Only one of six drives traveled longer than 23 yards. Buffalo’s three points in the first half were its lowest output since a meaningless game against the New York Jets in 2019.

Even worse, O.J. Simpson was in a suite and yucking it up with fans in attendance.

Then, Josh Allen woke up. And that’s what the greats do.

Everything can be going wrong, but the best quarterbacks are capable of turning a 3-3 dud into a 26-11 rout that electrifies the entire stadium. By the time Buffalo polished off a 26-11 win, Allen was 29 of 42 for 249 passing yards with another 55 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.

He flexed his biceps after a rushing score to punctuate the win and, after a failed 2-point attempt, Allen refused to back down from defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Officials needed to separate the two as the quarterback coolly waved Wilkins goodbye. It’s exactly that fire that endeared Allen to coaches and teammates and fans from Day 1. Now, he’s backing it up with the ability to detonate at any moment.

Maybe Phil Mickelson is to thank, too.

For Halloween, Allen dressed up as the pro golfer and he mentioned at his press conference that “Lefty” visited the team on a video call earlier this season. One piece of advice from Mickelson stayed with Allen, too. The winner of six majors stressed the importance of everyone finding their “Zen.” Remaining calm in the craziness is important both on a golf course and a football field.

Allen knows he’s at his worst when he’s playing angry and frustrated like he was through the first half on Sunday.

That’s what leads to the overthrows and wild turnovers.

But when he’s calm? Nobody’s better.

Say this about McDermott and Allen, too: They always win the games they’re supposed to win. Letdowns are rare in Western New York.


  • Give the Cowboys’ coaching staff all the credit for getting backup quarterback Cooper Rush ready to play in a 20-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings last night. He took all of the first-team reps through the week of practice with Dak Prescott ailing from a calf injury and shredded Mike Zimmer’s defense for 325 yards and two touchdowns.

  • Does anything sum up Urban Meyer’s NFL experience better than back-to-back penalties for having 12 men on the field? Out of a bye week? This couldn’t be going much worse for the coach in Jacksonville.

  • I don’t think we were too quick to crown the Bengals as legit contenders. All teams are entitled to at least one colossal letdown. A 34-31 loss to the Mike White-quarterbacked New York Jets certainly qualifies. The AFC North is an absolute logjam now. Baltimore and Cincinnati both have five wins. Pittsburgh and Cleveland each have four.

  • Carson Wentz picked a bad time to turn the ball over. After throwing one interception his first seven games, Wentz had two in the final eight minutes of a loss to Tennessee. Sixteen carries for Jonathan Taylor vs. 51 pass attempts for Wentz doesn’t seem like winning math for these Colts.

  • If I’m the Chiefs, I’m doing everything in my power to trade for a wide receiver ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. The defense can’t stop anyone, so they might as well try to score 40 points a game. The Bears (Allen Robinson), Dolphins (DeVante Parker), Giants (Darius Slayton) and Texans (Brandin Cooks) should all be sellers, though NFL Network did report the Texans aren’t dealing Cooks for some reason. Either way, don’t be surprised if head coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach are aggressive in an attempt to salvage this season and get Patrick Mahomes back on track.

  • It’s not going to be pretty in 2021 but these Pittsburgh Steelers will find a way to stay firmly in the playoff hunt the final two months. What a job containing Nick Chubb (61 yards) and pressuring Baker Mayfield (four sacks) in a 15-10 win.

  • Just imagine if the Patriots don’t suffer those heartbreaking losses to Tampa Bay and Dallas — they’d be 6-2 and feared by all once again. Bill Belichick’s defense had the explosive Chargers confused all game in a 27-24 win. Adrian Phillips was the hero with his late pick-six and, in truth, there isn’t much difference between 6-2 and 4-4 for Belichick’s club. They still get the Bills twice in the AFC East. Both games will be appointment viewing.

The Isaiah McKenzie Show continues

A reminder to everyone here that we’ll be recording another live episode of the Isaiah McKenzie Show TONIGHT at 6 p.m. (EST) at Mister’s Bar & Lanes in East Aurora. Subscribers get first dibs on a table, and can reserve their seat right here.

McKenzie’s been bringing a ton of insight and laughs. Feel free to watch or listen:

Ep 1: From Miami Gardens to Orchard Park

Ep 2: Inside the Bills’ demolition at Arrowhead

Ep 3: Why it’s time for McKenzie’s Scout Team ‘bonus’

All episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts and within the Go Long Podcast main feed on Apple and Spotify.

We also have a conversation with former 16th overall pick EJ Manuel up at the podcast, too. For the first time, the quarterback opens up on what happened in Buffalo. There was far more going on behind the scene than anyone realized.

Go Long
Podcast: What happened to EJ Manuel in Buffalo? More than anyone knew.
If EJ Manuel knew now what he knew then, the 2013 first-round pick would’ve handled everything a lot differently. On this week’s episode of the Go Long Podcast, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback reflects like never before. My co-host Jim Monos, the Bills’ director of personnel then, hasn’t been shy in saying the franchise mishandled Manuel…
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