Richard Sherman2

Physical toughness is something we hear about weekly in the NFL. No, daily, with large former players who yell at us for two hours during pre-game shows dripping saliva because of massive hits, or balls that are still grasped firmly after a massive hit.

Mental toughness is discussed in the same manner too, but for the audience, it can often be difficult to feel the magnitude of its importance when removed from the moment. We know that huge hit stopped a run that would have led to a first down, or it jarred a ball loose on a play which otherwise would have resulted in a touchdown. Vaguely, physicality can be quantified. But mental toughness? Not so much.

Enter Marques Colston.

Colston’s mental flub during what would be the final play of the season for the New Orleans Saints showed not just the cruelty of football, but more broudly, that of sports.

Sports can suck, because the distance traveled from hero to scorned goat after a play you’ll think about for the next eight months is short and awful. In a game the Saints eventually lost 23-15, Colston was one half of the play that made it a one-score game with 32 seconds left. An 80-yard drive that featured plenty of the standard brilliance from Drew Brees ended in a touchdown when Colston found a soft spot in the Seahawk’s zone.

There was life suddenly, but the percentages of a recovered onside kick, a touchdown, and then another two-point conversion all in 26 seconds were miniscule. Enter Marques Colston.

When Golden Tate muffed the onside kick and failed to recover a simple bounding ground ball, Colston pounced, giving his offense possession again at the Saints’ own 41-yard line with now 24 seconds left. One completion later, and they were at mid-field. After the next completion, the game was over.

Exit Marques Colston.

When Colston’s feet landed on the ground, he was on about the Seahawks’ 37-yard line with five seconds left. Had he turned immediately to get out of bounds, that’s the situation which would have faced Brees on one last play, a Hail Mary.

The odds of success on such a heave are inherently long. That’s sort of in the name. The play needs equal parts luck (a fateful pinball in the end zone) and accurate placement (Brees getting said ball to the correct area of the end zone) to have any hope. But even those lengthy percentages and acts of faith are infinitely better than what Colston attempted instead.

Colston tried the ol’ “THE BAND IS ON THE FIELD OH GAWD” lateral lunacy, which is a desperate glass case only cracked when there’s absolutely no other option. Or maybe he didn’t, and this was actually a called play. But nah, Sean Payton isn’t that incredibly stupid judging by his snarling post-game response.

No, only Colston is that uniquely stupid. The ball landed harmlessly after his failed cross-field lateral, and he was flagged for a forward pass regardless.

Surely there is one, but I really can’t think of a playoff game ending with a play that lacked any mental acknowledgement of the situation like Colston’s did. Going beyond football, Chris Webber’s infamous timeout call feels like a fine comparable whoopsie. There were other Saints mental meanderings, most notably Mark Ingram’s first-quarter fumble (only his second on his 361st career carry) that led to Marshawn Lynch’s first touchdown, which was essentially the difference in the game.

For Seattle, though, it shouldn’t have come to Colston. It shouldn’t have come remotely close to that, as although Colston will be given the goat horns and be forever reminded of his flub, this game should have been won with ease in the first half.

That’s when Brees was held to only 34 passing yards, his worst opening half ever as a Saint. Those yards came at a pace of only 2.8 per attempt.

That’s when the Seahawks led 16-0, the largest post-season lead in franchise history. At the time over their last six quarters against the Saints between today and the Week 13 drubbing just over a month ago, they had outscored New Orleans 43-7.

That’s when the Saints were held to only 113 total offensive yards through two quarters. Again going back over the past six Saints-Seahawks quarters as of halftime, a Drew Brees offense was limited to only 301 total yards. The same offense averaged 399.4 yards per game, and over those six quarters Brees had a passer rating of 70.5, with his longest pass just a 20 yarder. The Seahawks’ secondary was downright suffocating, frustrating Jimmy Graham by holding him to something unfathomable: just one catch for eight yards (gentle reminder: Graham led all pass catchers with 16 touchdowns during the regular season, and he averaged 75.9 yards per game).

And that’s when Marshawn Lynch ran for 69 yards on his way to 140 overall (the most in franchise post-season history) with two touchdowns, both scored on runs of over 15 yards. With weather that alternated mostly between pounding rain, steady rain, and annoying rain, the conditions were ideal for Lynch to eat equal amounts of slop and Skittles.

Yet even with that first-half obliteration, the Saints still had a prayer, a reach, and a chance, which went against all logic. Russell Wilson failing to complete a pass in the third quarter helped, and Brees turned that new-found possession time into three +20 yard passes, one a 52- yarder to Robert Meachem.

In the end, the hole was far too deep, and the mental herp derps far too crushing.