SEATTLE — Three days before a divisional playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks, Sean Payton cast a wary eye at the weather conditions expected Saturday in the Pacific Northwest.
While he wasn’t overly concerned with heavy rain that was forecast, the Saints coach said steady wind with gusts of up to 40 mph would be more problematic for the team’s passing game against the Seattle Seahawks.
The key, Payton said, was stretching the two quarters they would have the wind at their backs and doing what they could to shorten the two quarters they’d be going against it while also contending with the top-seeded Seahawks.
After doing enough to survive a first quarter heading into the wind and trailing just 6-0, thanks to the defense, their plans quickly went out the window in the 23-15 loss that ended their season.
Two first-quarter plays illustrated what Payton, whose team dropped a 34-7 decision to the Seahawks in December, was talking about.
Their first possession ended with Thomas Morstead’s 16-yard punt into a howling wind, giving the Seahawks the ball at the Saints’ 40 — which led to the first of Steven Hauschka’s three field goals. Then, Shayne Graham’s 45-yard field-goal attempt that could’ve tied the score, also into the wind, was wide left and led to another Seahawks field goal.
At the end of the quarter, the Saints felt good about getting their turn with the wind — trailing by just one score — and taking advantage of it.
“Yeah, we did (feel good),” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We obviously knew the wind was going to be a factor in this game. It seemed very unpredictable, but man, you just have to play. You just had to play and look for those opportunities to make plays.”
But the second quarter was when things really went bad for the Saints and put them in catch-up mode for the rest of the rainy, windy game.
On the first play of the quarter, Mark Ingram’s fumble was recovered by the Seahawks, whose offense needed just two plays to turn it into Marshawn Lynch’s 15-yard touchdown run for a 13-0 lead.
It was exactly what Payton told his team couldn’t happen.
“We talked about playing not just the field position game,” he said, “but understanding the significance of the takeaways and making sure that was something we found a way to correct from the last time.”
The Saints went on to use just 51/2 minutes of the second-quarter clock, while the Seahawks got a third field goal — this one into the wind — to take a 16-0 halftime lead that seemed much bigger, considering the conditions.
“In the first half, I felt like it was swirling,” a somber Payton said. “The wind was blowing left to right on our sideline and, as we were going (against) it, it was off and on. There would be a gust here and there. It was tough conditions for everyone. Credit them for the plays they were able to make. They made more than we did.”
The Saints again had trouble with the wind in the third quarter, failing to convert their two third-down attempts after going 1-for-3 in the second period. That means they were 1-for-5 on third downs with the wind, when picking up two or three more could have made a difference, and were 0-for-2 on fourth down in those two quarters.
They were 2-for-7 on third down and 1-for-1 on fourth down against the wind yet were still in the game in the final period. Twice they pulled within a touchdown and a two-point conversion, but they couldn’t catch up.
“We had plenty of opportunities to capitalize and take advantage of some things,” Ingram said. “We just didn’t make enough plays.”
Tackle Zach Strief lamented the missed opportunities, which were magnified by the conditions.
“There were dropped passes and penalties, and they didn’t seem like a big deal at the time,” he said. “But when you add them up in the end against a team like this in their place in this situation, you have to play closer to perfect than we did.”