Monday, February 08, 2010

All Souls Day

All Souls Day? Well, it is the day after All Saints Day, no?

We’re not churlish here at Frank Helps You Think It All Out. The first order of business is to offer congratulations to the fans of the New Orleans Saints.

In hockey and basketball, where the play-offs involve winning four out of seven, the order of business is to produce a repeatable formula for victory. The Super Bowl is different- you only got to prevail once. I’m not sure New Orleans has a repeatable formula- score 31 points scoring only two offensive touchdowns?- but it doesn’t matter one whit either.

The two main ways to close the gap with a superior outfit in the NFL: turnovers and mistakes (normally penalties and any kicking game follies). Ultimately, the Saints are a good team. They haven’t played consistent great offense since before winter, and correspondingly played more like good offense yesterday: the aforementioned two scores, a few field goals, solid passing total (just short of 300 yards), wasting few snaps rushing the football. But that was all the needed. A good NFL team with a “+2” turnover advantage (the fumbled on side kick, fourth quarter interception) almost never loses- and winning that battle was a huge step in closing the gap.

Sean Payton deserves credit. A lot of coaches passively accept the status quo. But an on-sides kick to start the second half is indicative of both a coach unsure he can win playing straight up (I mean, it is a huge gamble, particularly when losing) and a coach willing to do what it takes to change the game’s nature to one he has a better chance to win.

To wit, I don’t know if the Saints are a better football team than Indianapolis. But as the game bled into the third and fourth quarter, it became less a game about the deployment of football talent (where I still think the Colts are better) to a game of who really messes up first. On Sunday, the Saints were the clear winner of that game- and the answer to is “who is more heady under pressure?” might be a question that it was easier for the Saints to answer than “who is a better pure collective of football talent?”

The Saints kept up relentless pressure on to not make a killer mistake. New Orleans made their kicks, covered their kicks, did not give up first downs on penalties, etc. Down a score, with time running down, Manning was under increasing pressure to force the issue… and he made the final terrible error to wrap the title up for New Orleans.