Rabalais: Ridiculous final play showed how close Saints really were

Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Free safety Rafael Bush will remain in New Orleans after the Saints on Monday matched an offer sheet he signed with the Atlanta Falcons last week. Show caption
Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Free safety Rafael Bush will remain in New Orleans after the Saints on Monday matched an offer sheet he signed with the Atlanta Falcons last week.

SEATTLE — The notorious 12th man was roaring, its collective voice as loud as a Boeing jet engine.

But something was threatening to make an unwelcome reappearance for 68,000 bonkers Seattle Seahawks rooters.

Their first-half plate of nachos, perhaps. Or one or three overpriced light beers.

CenturyLink Field was shaking all right, but there was some fear mixed with the typical caffeine-stoked Seattle insanity.

The Saints had pulled back within eight points at 23-15. They recovered the onside kick. Drew Brees had the ball in his hands at his team’s 49-yard line, and only 11 seconds remained. Odds still firmly in favor of the house, certainly, but if you’re playing New Orleans, there are a few billion souls on this Earth you’d rather see slinging it from midfield than Andrew Christopher Brees.

Fortunately for the nauseous nation of the 12th man, the Saints hurled before the Seahawks had a chance to.

Brees found Marques Colston at the Seahawks’ 38 — the sure-handed lieutenant who hauled in his desperation, 9-yard, fourth-and-6 touchdown pass a few moments earlier and set up the twilight’s last gleaming by recovering Shayne Graham’s onside kick.

Did Colston step out of bounds and kill the clock with about 7 seconds left, giving the Saints a chance to run one, maybe two plays?

Nnnnnnot quite.

He unleashed a pass — an illegal forward lateral to be precise — toward an incredulous Travaris Cadet, who fielded the ball like a second baseman and chopped to a stop like a car running out of fuel.

Flag. Two seconds left on the clock. Automatic 10-second runoff.

Season over.

It was perhaps the strangest, most stupefying ending to a Saints game ever, and this from a franchise that lost on two Big Ben plays to the Atlanta Falcons in 1978.

Afterward, Colston had no words. Saints coach Sean Payton’s only reply was that he would have to look at the tape, his stock brush-off when there is a question he doesn’t want to answer.

If it was a desperation effort to get into the end zone with scant seconds left and no timeouts in the Saints’ quiver, well, time makes fools of us all. If it was a called play, it was much too much cleverness given the situation.

Defeat, it is said, is a orphan. Not every time.

Colston’s blunder was enormous but hardly the only one by the Saints on this soggy, chilly Saturday.

Once again, it was New Orleans’ inability to put enough points on the board on the road that had the Saints coming up short.

New Orleans piled up 409 yards of offense — five weeks after recording a Payton-era low 144 total yards in that embarrassing 34-7 blowout by the Seahawks here. The Saints allowed 277 total yards to Seattle but still lost.

New Orleans had 25 first downs to Seattle’s 13 but still lost. Brees passed circles around Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, 309 to 103, but the Saints still lost.

The Saints lost because they once again couldn’t produce enough points on the road. What is a well-oiled offensive machine at home turns to rust outdoors.

This was the sixth time in eight games outside the Orleans Parish line that the Saints scored 20 points or less.

Certainly the Seahawks and their top-ranked defense had something to do with that. So did the elements, wind and rain that would have had tropical storm warning flags being raised if you encountered these conditions on the Gulf Coast.

The Saints defense deserved a better fate. Yes, once again New Orleans was unable to force a turnover, and the Saints were the only NFL team this season not to record a defensive touchdown. But the defense, such a liability in the lost season of 2012, was such a strength over and over again. Twenty-three points, especially after Seattle scored its first touchdown set up by a Mark Ingram fumble at the Saints’ 24, was not an unreasonable total to allow and still manage to win.

“I lost it in a critical moment,” Ingram said. “I just made a mistake.”

Ingram should earn a lot of respect for his forthrightness (and his play the second half of the season), but he was hardly alone. Shayne Graham’s two missed field goals were also huge. So were a fistful of dropped or poorly thrown Brees passes (the gale-like breeze was a factor).

Did the best team win? Certainly.

Neither team played at top form, and Seattle was still able to win because it started with an advantage in skill and a potent home field where the Seahawks have lost just once in the past two seasons. The Saints would have had to play turnover-free, mistake-free, and could not.

But one less mistake, one more made play, and maybe the 12th man would have been silenced.