It’s always too simplistic to point at one play as the reason a game turned or got away.
There are dozens upon dozens of small moments each week you could point at and say, if this had happened, then maybe it would have changed this, and then the whole game ends up differently.
The New Orleans Saints’ 34-28 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is no different.
You could pick plenty of moments to unravel and explore alternate outcomes — and most of them are sitting on the surface.
What if Kai Forbath gets a better spot on his potential game-winning field goal?
What if the coin toss in overtime comes up on the other side?
What if Drew Brees hadn’t thrown a fourth-quarter interception, or Brandon Browner hadn’t been flagged for pass interference on third down in the fourth quarter, or the defense had picked up tight end Anthony Fasano on the game-winning touchdown?
If any one of those moments turns out differently, the Saints win this game and are sitting above .500, and this story is about how New Orleans is now a playoff contender. Instead, there’s a hollowness and the unmistakable feeling that, even though they let it get away, the Saints probably should have beaten a banged-up Titans team.
“It was just one of those games where we held ourselves back,” Saints receiver Brandin Cooks said. “They weren’t doing anything special.”
It also would be too simplistic to boil the loss down to Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis colliding at the end of the first quarter, turning a potential interception into a 61-yard touchdown for the Titans’ Delanie Walker. That moment, like any of the other individual moments, could have been covered up later in the game.
But like the aforementioned plays, it was a game-defining moment, one of many brought up during postgame interviews. If the Saints had recorded the interception, they would have had the ball back and been up 14-3. Instead, Tennessee was able to pull within three.
It was unquestionably a lost opportunity in a game where one break the other direction could have turned the tide, a piece of a mosaic that came together to create the image of a larger lost opportunity.
But when that moment was brought up to Byrd after the game, Browner, who was sitting a few stalls over, overheard and began yelling profanities at a reporter. He raised his objections about “one play in the game” being brought up when the contest went to overtime.
It got to the point that he had to be escorted out of the room by teammate Mike McGlynn and told to calm down.
No, the incident is not indicative of a team-wide issue. It’s an example of the emotion some players — or at least one player — were feeling after the game. Browner was likely frustrated after a tough loss and looking to protect his teammates from being singled out as the reason for the outcome, when everyone took part in the process.
And the truth is, all of the players should be frustrated. A few weeks ago, it looked like this team was overcoming its issues, getting better in key areas and potentially getting ready to compete for a playoff spot. Now, those issues are back.
“Forget the records,” Brees said. “It’s frustrating that we lost this game because of ... penalties, turnovers and just not making the plays that we need to make.”
It might be unfair to dump on the defense for failing to generate enough of a pass rush or giving up plays to tight ends with linebackers Hau’oli Kikaha and Dannell Ellerbe out of action, but this is now two bad performances in a row following two good ones against Atlanta and Indianapolis.
And the offensive line regressed after playing well the previous three weeks. Was the success there because they faced three defenses — the New York Giants, Colts and Falcons — that ranked in the bottom three in the league entering each of those games? The Titans have a better pass rush, and it showed as they sacked Brees four times.
Frustration makes sense. Some of the hiccups that have continued to plague the Saints have been overlooked of late since they were winning. But after losing to a team that had one victory entering Sunday’s action, those issues will be back at the forefront.
And they likely would have had to come to light even if the Saints managed to win this game, because then they would have had to be covered like a playoff contender. The standards are higher for those teams than ones fighting to get over. 500.
Even if New Orleans had won, Antonio Andrews would have had a 38-yard run and Walker (60), Harry Douglas (30), Craig Stevens (24), Fasano (23), Andrews (23), Dexter McCluster (21) and Dorial Green-Beckham (20) all would have had receptions of 20 or more yards.
There are issues — some major ones, even — and they’ve been mostly prevalent all season. And that’s not even mentioning the issues this team has had with field goals throughout the year.
Simply put: The Saints are a flawed team. It’s painted as overcoming adversity when a team overcomes those issues and wins games. It’s viewed as something a team can build upon and develop character through.
But when a team plays in a close game and doesn’t handle the adversity inherent to those contests, it becomes cause for concern, which is where things stand now stand for the Saints.
“It’s frustrating,” Lewis said. “You have teams like Carolina and Atlanta who are winning games. You don’t want to be third or fourth in your division. It’s getting close to the playoffs, and it’s time to start winning.”
The pursuit of .500 begins again. If they win on the road Sunday against the Washington Redskins, the Saints will have a bye week and then another shot at overcoming the mark against the Houston Texans.
But with each loss, the season comes ever closer to being only about overcoming that mark. Moral victories. Singular moments. The kinds of things that Browner doesn’t want to talk or hear about.
So, yeah, there’s reason for frustration — even if it wasn’t expressed in the most constructive way.