Ever been called in by your boss and put on notice that your job is jeopardy?
That’s exactly what happened with the Saints last week.
And as if to make sure everyone knew they were on double-secret probation, Sean Payton made an example of Joe Morgan for the players who were cuttable and Kenny Vaccaro for the players who weren’t. Morgan got cut; Vaccaro got benched.
Then, Payton brought in kickers for tryouts to motivate Shayne Graham, no doubt in part because he doesn’t have much regard for kickers anyway.
Lord knows what he told the assistants. But we sure didn’t see many sideline shots of arguments with Rob Ryan on Monday night in Chicago, where the Saints won 31-15.
All of that probably wasn’t necessary to beat a sorry collection called the Chicago Bears who weren’t as good as the Spare Bears whom Payton quarterbacked during the 1987 strike season.
But as a motivational factor going forward, not just for this week’s showdown against Atlanta, but into the future, it certainly worked.
“Psychologists don’t like to hear this, but fear is the greatest motivation in the world,” said WWL analyst Mike Detillier. “Especially if it means losing something that you treasure.”
And for NFL players, especially those who have seen how fluid teams are, and aren’t among the handful who can be considered secure, that fear is amplified.
On Monday, at least, it in some cases it was leavened by opportunity:
-- Pierre Warren, Terrence Frederick and Jamarca Stanford, none of whom were on the active roster a month ago, made up three-fourths of the starting secondary and helped make Bears quarterback Jay Cutler look like the most overpaid person on the planet.
-- Second-year nose tackle Jonathan Jenkins, inactive for three of the first four games, had a career-high seven tackles and his first NFL sack.
-- Tackle Bryce Harris replaced injured Terron Armstead in the first quarter and helped give Drew Brees more time than he’s enjoyed all season.
-- Backup tight end Josh Hill had two touchdown catches, increasing his season total to five. That’s second highest on the team.
And there were starters who could, and in some cases probably will, be wearing other uniforms next season — Marques Colston, Mark Ingram, Patrick Robinson and David Hawthorne to name a few — who also followed Payton’s prime directive: “DO YOUR JOB.”
“There is, or should be, in the NFL motivation to always do your best,” Detillier said. “The eye in the sky don’t lie.
“You’re playing in a commuter NFL, and the vast majority of the league is built on players being the right fit for the right team, right scheme. But fear of losing that situation where you will never make the money and might never be in that position again is a great motivation.”
OK, so those little heart-to-hearts in Payton’s office combined with the dysfunctional ineptitude of the Bears combined to give the Saints the victory Monday.
The football gods have blessed the Saints with the opportunity to become just the fifth team of the Super Bowl era to win a division championship without a winning record (Bite on that, Roger Goodell).
Not only that, but they could clinch it by beating the Dirty Birds on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
On the other hand, they could also be eliminated by a loss. Wouldn’t that make it a blue Christmas?
Or it still could come down to the Dec. 28 finale at Tampa Bay. Wouldn’t that be fitting for this confounding season?
And lest you forget, when the Saints played the Falcons in Atlanta in the season opener, Matt Ryan & Co. lit up the Black & Gold for 568 yards, the second highest total allowed in Saints history, in a 37-34 overtime victory.
And while they’re just 5-9, last Sunday the Falcons put up 407 yards in a 27-20 road loss at Pittsburgh in which they held out Julio Jones as an injury precaution.
Jones is expected back on Sunday. Against the Saints the first time, Jones had a team-high seven catches for 116 yards.
The Falcons are seventh in the league in total offense at 382.9 yards-per-game.
That doesn’t bode well for the Saints, who are next-to-last in total defense (390.1 ypg) and had its regular starters healthy back on Sept. 7.
On the other hand, the Falcons are last in total defense (409.0 ypg) and the Saints are second in the league in total offense (422.6 ypg).
There’s one more statistic that matters.
The Saints are averaging 26.0 points per-game to the Falcons’ 24.9.
That’s a 1.1-point difference. Given the history of this series, that’s probably the likely margin of victory on Sunday.
If some certain guys plan on continuing to keep their jobs — or at least the citizens of Who Datatonia from demanding the whole organization be fired — they’d be well-advised to come out on the right side of this one.
And if you don’t believe me, listen to your boss:
“I think everyone understands the significance of the next game.”
We’ll see Sunday.