Everyone is saying that the Saints ultimately lost Sunday's game against the Patriots because Sean Payton got too conservative at the end. I'm normally not someone for conservative play myself, but in this case, I beg to differ just this once.
The Saints, IMO, blew this game because they weren't conservative enough to trust their newly discovered running game to close the deal.
The main reason the Saints were able to come back in the 3rd and early 4th quarter was because they decided to finally abandon the outside zone blocking mis-scheme and try busting the Patriot middle in the mouth with between-the-tackle power blocking, and having Jed Collins be the fullback hammer creating holes for Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson to blast through.
Which brings me to what I think was the critical miscall of the entire game: that 3rd down on the Patriots 22 with 2:33 left. Why throw an alley-oop to Colston, who had been as invisible as Graham the entire game, when a simple I-lead smash up the middle with Robinson sends the clock to the 2 minute warning, and perhaps even gets the first down to seal the game??
Yes, the referees tanked that final hold on Galette, and other calls. Yes, Jabari Greer should not have been placed on an island on that final play. Yes, Rob Ryan should not have gone "prevent" on that last drive. And yes, Payton on the last offensive drive went totally Mora. But....had he trusted his running game much better on that particular call, it's far less likely that Brady even gets the chance for his final heroics.
I'm not saying that the Saints should just take the ball from Brees' hands completely and transform themselves into the 49ers. I'm simply saying that on the road, against a strong defense that is capable of taking away your best weapons, it's nice to have that hammer around. Plus, it frees up play action for Stills and Toon and Colston to run loose as well.
If they learn the proper lesson from this loss, the Saints are potentially the NFC favorites for SB XLVIII. Even after this loss. Better now than in December, I say.