Maybe Brandon Browner should pay more attention to defending against the other teams than to defending his teammates from mean and cruel questions being posed to them by the media.
If he did, maybe the Saints would be 5-4 instead of 4-5.
To be sure it’s not fair to lay Sunday’s 34-28 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans completely on one player’s shortcomings and outburst.
On Monday, Saints coach Sean Payton pointed out deficiencies in the defense, offense and special teams, laying the blame, somewhat ominously, on the quality of preparation as much as the execution.
In other words, heads may roll.
And while giving credit to the Titans for gathering themselves after a coaching change and to rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota’s poise demonstrating why he was the No. 2 pick in the draft, Payton also was clearly galled that a team that was 1-6 and ranked next-to-last in both scoring and total offense was able to scorch the Saints for 483 yards, 80 of them a flawless drive in overtime that ended with Mariota’s fourth touchdown pass.
It left the Saints defense is in a familiar position: next to last in yards and points allowed and last in opponents’ yards per play.
“There are things they were able to do that other teams were not allowing them to do,” he said. “We’ve got to be better than that.”
But back to Mr. Browner.
Brought in to provide a physical presence at cornerback (he’s 6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and leadership from the perspective of earning back-to-back Super Bowl rings with Seattle and New England (he was elected one of the defensive captains, and the other members of the secondary regularly praise his as a teammate), Browner has become a penalty-drawing magnet (he drew two on Sunday, including a pass interference flag that kept alive a fourth quarter drive to raise his league-leading total to 17) whose productivity doesn’t live up to his three-year, $15 million contract (one interception and six passes defended, neither of which he added to Sunday.
Here’s what Browner did on that final drive by the Titans:
1. Missed a tackle and then stood and watched as Dorial Green-Beckham turned what should have been a 5-yard gain into a 14-yarder.
2. Allowed Antonio Andrews to run past him for 15 yards.
3. Was blocked out of the play on a 2-yard gain by Andrews.
4. Did not quickly respond when Craig Stevens fell after a short pass, got up and gained 24 yards to the Saints 25.
5. Arrived too late to do anything on a 7-yard pass to Harry Douglas.
6. Got bumped at the line of scrimmage and turned around on a plant route by Green-Beckham on a 9-yard gain to the Saints 8.
7. Like everyone else on the defense, was completely fooled when Mariota rolled out right and threw left to uncovered Anthony Fasano for the winning touchdown.
For the rest of the day, Browner had three tackles and no breakups.
And yet on Monday, Payton declared that Browner was still an asset to the team, although citing Browner’s captaincy instead of anything he was doing on the field.
He also would not reveal whether Browner had been reprimanded or fined for his postgame tirade, saying any such action would be kept within the team.
That may be club policy, but since Browner’s rant was directed at media members who were not even talking to him in the first place, in this case it would be appropriate to make any actions public.
To his credit, Browner, who usually speaks to the media only on Friday, did so Monday, although he gave more an explanation than an apology.
At any rate, the bigger picture for the defense is that Sunday against a team with a rookie quarterback coming off missing two weeks with a knee injury and playing in the hostile environment of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with a supporting cast known mainly to fantasy players who don’t understand why they took them, the Saints couldn’t get a sack, couldn’t come up with an interception and ultimately couldn’t get a stop when it had to.
“Mariota has a quick release, and did well in play-action,” Payton said. “But I would have to say our ability to pressure on him was just average.”
Wonder what he considers below average?
As Payton said, it wasn’t all on the defense.
After driving for touchdowns on its first three possessions, the offense had only one more touchdown in its last nine.
And in addition to the blocked field goal in the final minute of regulation that could have been the game-winner (Payton said a poor snap and poor protection were to blame), special teams play included a fumble by Marcus Murphy that gave the Titans a field goal and 96 yards in kickoff returns by the visitors plus an unnecessary personal foul by Michael Mauti on a kickoff that gave Tennessee a 15-yard boost to start its tying touchdown drive.
Payton did point out that as a head coach he had to put the euphoria of the three-game winning streak the team had fashioned before Sunday into perspective.
There were problems in all aspects in those games that were not corrected and that came back to bite the Saints just when it looked like they’d turned the corner.
At 4-5, the Saints are behind nine other NFC teams in the loss column. At 5-4, they would trail five but be only a game back of fading Atlanta for the second wild-card spot.
Playoffstatus.com gives the Saints a 13 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Maybe Browner should consider that before the next time he goes off.