• As the seconds ticked away in the Vikings-Saints NFC divisional-round game, Sean Payton clearly thought his team had the victory in the bag, and he indulged in taunting the Minnesota fans. Little did he know what would happen on the final play of that game...
By Jonathan Jones
January 16, 2018

I’m all for some good trash talking, but Sean Payton needs to improve his tactics.

For the second time in two months, the New Orleans Saints’ head coach was caught taunting the opposition. And for the second time in as many months, it backfired.

The most recent example came on Sunday when the Saints led the Vikings 24–23 with about 10 seconds left in the game. Victory was in the Saints’ grasp, the team surely headed to their first NFC title game since 2009. That’s when Payton turned his back to the field to face the Vikings crowd and led a mock Skol chant, lifting both arms and clapping above his head with his playsheet and headphones in his left hand. (That’s how secure the result was—Payton was comfortable enough to take his headset off.)

Then of course came the Minnesota Miracle, the Case Keenum-to-Stefon Diggs play in which rookie safety Marcus Williams whiffed on the tackle, allowing Diggs to run to the end zone even though the WR had surely been told repeatedly to get out of bounds immediately upon making the grab. The Saints lost, and if this were a year ago, Payton would have received the Crying Jordan treatment by now.

News of the alleged taunt crept out late Sunday night, but I dismissed it as fan fodder that had no evidence. If all those cameras inside U.S. Bank Stadium couldn’t catch the head coach doing this, in my opinion, it didn’t happen. But Tuesday morning we woke to the news—first reported by former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber—being corroborated by still images.

“It was good playoff fun,” Payton offered reporters Tuesday morning when asked about the taunt, clearly not wanting to spend much time on his embarrassment.

This took me back to my rec basketball days as a ninth grader. My team turned the ball over and the opponent’s best player led a fast break. I was with him step-for-step down the court. My trash talk was something to the affect of, ‘You know I’m going to block this, right?’ He said nothing and kept dribbling. Once inside the paint, he drew contact beautifully, fell away even more beautifully, tossed the ball off the backboard for a made layup and an and-one. I was Sean Payton.

But at least I learned my lesson then. In Week 14 against the Falcons, Payton made a choke sign to Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman during the game. Atlanta would go on to win the game after it picked off Drew Brees in the end zone, and Payton killed any hope of a last-ditch comeback when he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for marching out to the numbers to argue with officials.

While Mike Tomlin looks foolish on his own for overlooking the Jaguars in favor of the Patriots, his action pales in comparison to Payton, who actively mocked an opponent and an opponent’s fanbase just to go 0–2 against both and sit at home this weekend.

I actually like the idea of a Black Hat in the coaching ranks, someone in this otherwise-boring head coaching industry to take some verbal shots and spice up the game. Payton could very well be that guy. He’s in a fun city with a fun, young team that should have some swagger.

But his trash talk needs a lot of work. He should take this offseason to review the tape and work to be better in 2018.

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