NEW ORLEANS Based on post-game comments from the New Orleans Saints after Thursday night’s televised matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees seemed poised to say the Black and Gold will never again play on TNF.
Damn the long-term TV contract and the billions shelled out to the league for broadcast rights on NBC/CBS/NFL Network and streamed live on Amazon. Damn the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement. Playing games on Thursday night simply is hazardous to one’s health and not good for the NFL brand.
And while they might be important issues going forward, it sounds like Payton and Brees could use some good ol’ French Brie to go with their whine.
Losing 20-17 to the fortuitious Dirty Birds on a national stage had nothing to do with the day of the week.
But it had everything to do with an ill-advised interception thrown by Brees in the end zone with his team driving toward a potential winning TD, or, at the very least a tying field goal with 85 seconds remaining.
“I shouldn’t have thrown it,’’ Brees said. “Just should not have taken that chance.’’
Losing to Atlanta had everything to do with referee Clete Blakeman and his officiating crew penalizing the Saints 11 times that resulted in nine first downs for the Falcons and negated a 48-yard field goal by Saints kicker Wil Lutz as time expired in the first half leaving the score tied at 10.
Payton drew the game’s last flag after going on the field to get the attention of an official who apparently spurned the coach’s initial request for a timeout. That unsportsmanlike conduct penalty resulted in a first down and enabled the Falcons to run out the clock.
“I gotta be smarter than that,’’ Payton acknowledged.
Payton also drew attention for a choking gesture he made in the fourth quarter, a gesture that Falcons running back Devonta Freeman interpreted as a reference to his team’s colossal collapse against New England in Super Bowl LI.
Payton said: “I don’t remember that.’’
The crux of the Saints’ apparent disdain for Thursday Night Football is because of an inherent risk for player injury with so little time between games for proper rest and recovery.
The Saints suffered a handful of injuries, the most impactful, perhaps, involving rookie running back Alvin Kamara on their opening drive. He played six snaps before exiting with a concussion at the 10-minute mark of the first quarter, ending his night with 27 scrimmage yards on four touches.
They were not the same team without Kamara and will not be going forward if he misses significant time.
The Saints injury report also includes middle linebacker A.J. Klein (groin), guard Senio Kelemete (concussion), safety Kenny Vaccaro (groin) and defensive end Trey Hendrickson (ankle). Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore repeatedly needed oxygen on the sideline to deal with an illness.
Payton and Brees didn’t mince words afterward.
“It’s 100 percent a product of playing on Thursday night,’’ Payton said referring to his team’s injuries.
“Do you understand what guys’ bodies go through in a game?’’ Brees said. “And then to have to turn around four days later and to play? Look at the injuries studies: They’re off the charts.
“When you see guys go down ... that gets you upset.’’
It should be noted that the winning Falcons’ made no post-game reference to the inherent injury risks of playing games on Thursday night. Nor did they quibble with the officiating. Then again, the Falcons (8-5) escaped with a crucial win to keep their playoff hopes alive and pull within one game of the NFC South-leading Saints (9-4) with three games to play.
But, Freeman didn’t go quietly into the night, either.
Shortly before midnight, he tweeted: “AINTS lol.’’
The rematch is set for noon on Christmas Eve inside what promises to be a festive and rowdy Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
By the way, that’s a Sunday.