HomeFootball DirtExamining How the Saints' Unconventional Use of Victory Formation Does Not Align...

Examining How the Saints’ Unconventional Use of Victory Formation Does Not Align with Its Original Purpose

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Victory formation hits different now — just like the Atlanta Falcons defenders undoubtedly will next time they face the New Orleans Saints.

That’s the fallout of backup quarterback Jameis Winston going rogue during mop-up duty and leading New Orleans to a rub-it-in touchdown Sunday against an unsuspecting opponent that was really undeserving of such shenanigans.

Defying his coaches’ call for a couple of kneel-downs near the goal line following an interception with about a minute to go and the Saints up by 24 points, Winston put it to a vote, then handed the football to running back Jamaal Williams, who hadn’t reached the end zone since joining the team as a free agent in the offseason after rushing for a league-leading 17 touchdowns last season in Detroit.

Was one TD against air really that much better than none?

All it did was two things:

a) leave coach Dennis Allen to answer for his players’ insubordination and

b) transfer the embarrassment from the vanquished to the shameless.

Falcons defensive lineman Calais Campbell said that while he understood the Saints players wanting to get a touchdown for Williams, he took issue with the way New Orleans deceptively lined up as if to take a knee.

“I wish they would have lined up in run formation,” Campbell said. “Don’t look like you’re going to take a knee and then run the ball.”

That’s the crux of the matter: if you’re going to try to score, then do it against a defense trying to prevent you from scoring. Then, if you do cross the goal line, it may be piling on but at least it’s not a cheap shot, a sucker punch or even a lowdown, dirty slap in the face.

Arthur Smith’s final act as Falcons head coach before his midnight firing a few hours later was to angrily confront his counterpart as Allen tried to apologize for his players’ dereliction.

“They did that on their own. That’s not acceptable,” Allen said later, adding that he understood Smith’s anger.

The Saints found themselves with the ball at the Atlanta 1 after Tyrann Mathieu’s late 74-yard interception return. Instead of running out the clock by taking a knee after a couple of snaps as instructed, Winston told the offense in the huddle that he would hand off to Williams if they all agreed to defy their coaches’ instructions.

Apparently, nobody spoke up to quash the defiance.

“The question was posed in the huddle about what we wanted to do on the play, and we had received our instructions and went against them,” Saints tight end Foster Moreau explained. “Right or wrong or indifferent, it’s just kind of what happened. Jamaal had no touchdowns on the year. He bleeds and fights just like the rest of us — awesome, awesome dude. I’m glad he got in the end zone.

“I wish we didn’t do it out of a victory formation.”

It’s one thing to fake a spike to deceive the defense. It’s quite another to fake taking the high road and a knee only to hand the ball off and score a trick touchdown when you’re already ahead by four scores.

Victory formation was legalized in the NFL in 1987 when the league permitted the quarterback to declare himself down by kneeling with the ball. Before that, a defender had to touch him before he was declared down.

That rule change came nine years after the practice of taking a knee was popularized following one of the most notorious bloopers in NFL history, the “ Miracle at the Meadowlands.”

The Giants were leading the Eagles 17-12 on Nov. 19, 1978, but instead of taking a knee to run out the clock, the coaches called for a running play and quarterback Joe Pisarcik flubbed a handoff to Larry Csonka. Philadelphia’s Herman Edwards scooped up the ball for a stunning score and a 19-17 Philly win.

Also known as “The Fumble,” few victory formations ever since have been so dramatic and problematic as Sunday’s fake kneel-down in New Orleans.

“The Bumble,” as we’ll call it, wasn’t the only call in Week 18 that was ripe for regret.

COLT JOLT

The Indianapolis Colts missed out on a playoff berth with their 23-19 loss at home to Houston.

On fourth-and-1 from the Texans’ 15-yard line after a timeout with 1:06 remaining, coach Shane Steichen dialed up a make-or-break play not for star running back Jonathan Taylor — who had 188 yards on 30 carries and caught both passes thrown his way for 8 yards Sunday — or for top receiver Michael Pittman, who had a team-high five catches for 44 yards in the game — but for third-string running back Tyler Goodson, who hadn’t touched the football all afternoon.

It actually looked like a good call when Goodson ran into the flat to quarterback Gardner Minshew’s left and was wide open for the first down and maybe even the touchdown. Only, Minshew’s throw was behind Goodson, who couldn’t contort his body to haul in the catch, which would have been just his seventh reception of the season and first in four weeks.

LIONS LAMENT

The Detroit Lions played their starters in the regular-season finale against Minnesota, hoping to improve from the No. 3 to No. 2 NFC seed in their first postseason appearance since 2016. (They found themselves in this position because of a referee’s controversial call that cost them a win in Dallas a week earlier).

The strategy didn’t work out. The Cowboys thrashed the Washington Commanders 38-10 a few hours after the Lions’ 30-20 win over the Vikings to secure the No. 2 seed, and the Lions lost Pro Bowl tight end Sam LaPorta and standout return specialist Kalif Raymond to knee injuries Sunday.

Coach Dan Campbell said there’s an outside shot that LaPorta will be back Sunday. That’s when former Detroit QB Matthew Stafford returns to Ford Field for the first time since being traded three years ago to the Rams for current Lions QB Jared Goff, adding extra spice to the Lions’ first home playoff game since 1993.

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With contributions from AP Sports Writers Brett Martel and Larry Lage.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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