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Should Sean Payton Curb Unnecessary Trash Talk?

Choke signals and SKOL chants have come back to bite him. Can Sean Payton find a way to energize his players without setting them up for failure?

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC vs AFC Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Saints lost a heartbreaker in the NFC Divisional round against the Vikings. Before the Minnesota Miracle, Saints fans harbored real Super Bowl aspirations. This year, the Saints are even better, more complete, and more disciplined; but to achieve their real goal, they will have to play nearly perfect and limit any mistakes.

This goes for the coaches as well. Especially Sean Payton. He was almost unhinged last year in his smack talking of other teams’ players and fans alike. Just before Stefon Diggs ended the Saints’ playoff hopes, Payton had trolled a group of Vikings fans in the stands by performing the Skol clap.

The classless act was first mentioned by former Viking and current KFAN sideline reporter Ben Leber. “This is an unconfirmed report, and I’m waiting on some sort of video evidence. With about 20 seconds left to go in the game, I was told that he turned around and was doing the “SKOL” chant at Vikings fans.”

“A brilliant troll move by a douchebag if he did it. But even better — now I really, really hope that he did it. Because that’s a premature celebration. You’ve probably got to keep it reeled in. Doing a “skol” chant, that’s like an a-hole after the game — hey, you won. Taunt us. Go for it. Twenty seconds left, the game’s not over, Sean.”

This is what happened twenty seconds later.

That’s a brutal taste of karma. What little joy Payton got from heckling a random group of midwestern fans couldn’t have been worth that. He didn’t even really have a good reason for the premature misstep.

Heckling opposing teams’ fans seems a bit beneath a head coach of a professional football team. Heckling opposing teams’ players may be a little more accepted, but Payton has taken this too far as well. Against the Falcons in Week 14 last season, Payton jawed with running back Devonta Freeman before yelling “choke” at him while mimicking a choking sign.

The moment occurred with about 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter while the Saints held a 17-10 lead. Later, with one and a half minutes left and Atlanta leading 20-17, Drew Brees was intercepted by Deion Jones in the end zone. The Saints had two timeouts remaining so they still had a slim chance of forcing a three-and-out and getting the ball back one more time.

That chance never came because Payton got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after sprinting onto the field to confront the officials over his last timeout.

“I called a timeout, and then he asked me again, and I said I have already called a timeout,” Payton said after the game. “I probably said it with a little more vigor then I was supposed to but I had enough. I have to be smarter than that.”

The Falcons got a first down. Game over. What’s worse, Payton even acknowledged that his exchange with Freeman did negatively affect him throughout the remainder of the game.

“Listen, the mistake I made that night was letting my emotions get the best of me,” Payton said. “It’s the same thing that we talk about with our players all of the time. It wasn’t good and I felt like as that game went on, it even affected me in calling plays.”

The NFL did not fine Payton for the gesture, but he was fined $10,000 for entering the field of play to argue with officials. It appeared at the time like Payton was remorseful and had learned a valuable lesson.

“Just knowing that as a head coach you’re always talking about being composed,” Payton said. “I felt like at that point in the game I wasn’t. Listen, I’ve got great respect for him (Freeman), not only as a player, but also for Coach (Dan) Quinn and those guys.”

It’s a good thing Freeman doesn’t have a fragile ego and didn’t seem to harbor any lasting grudge against Payton or the team he represents. “Like I said two weeks ago, it was a competitors’ moment,” Freeman said.

“I talk trash. He talks trash. Players talk trash. Coaches talk trash. This is what we’re in it for, to compete. At the end of the day, it’s all fun, it’s all love. We all understand, everybody in the situation. We understand each other because we go through the same things, so I don’t take it as disrespect at all.”

We certainly can’t say the same thing about Los Angeles Rams cornerback Marcus Peters. Don’t get me wrong, I actually don’t think Payton was supremely untactful by expressing his affection for the matchup between Michael Thomas and Peters. “They were going to travel Marcus to him and that was fine by us,” Payton said during the postgame presser. “We thought we really liked that matchup, a lot.”

Of course, Payton was absolutely correct in his assessment. According to Pro Football Focus, Peters struggled covering Thomas, giving up nearly a perfect passer rating (156.3) on eight targets. Head-to-head, Peters allowed six receptions on eight targets for 127 yards and a touchdown. To top it off, Thomas set a new Saints franchise record for receiving yards in a game (211).

But being the competitor he is, Peters’ razor thin ego clapped back immediately. “Tell Sean Payton to keep talking that s---,” Peters said. “We’re going to see him soon. You feel me? Yeah, because I like what he was saying on the sidelines, too. Tell him, ‘Keep talking that s---. And I hope to see you soon.’ You hear me? And then we’ll have a nice little bowl of gumbo together.”

These are not emotions we want to unnecessarily elicit in our foes, especially those who play on defense. Sean Payton isn’t out there risking his body and brain. His players are.

What if Peters takes a cheap shot at Thomas the next time these teams face each other? I might honestly blame Payton more than Peters, because a coach is in a leadership position and they have to lead by example.

I don’t want Payton to lose his swaggering vigor and charismatic rapport with his players, however. How else would we have come to enjoy the Shamar Allen jam “Hit the Sean Payton”?

I just want Payton to pump his players up without having to tear his opponents or their fans down. That feels cheap and unsatisfying. The Saints have gone through great lengths to fill the locker room with high quality and high character athletes. It would be a shame if their hard work was wasted in any way by a lapse in character from their most important leader.

He’s too damn good of a coach to let that happen to a team that’s this damn good.

Poll

Should Sean Payton Curb his Trash Talking Behavior?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    YES! Act like you’ve been there before!
    (198 votes)
  • 54%
    NO! That’s what makes him successful!
    (240 votes)
438 votes total Vote Now