Saints Players Defy Their Own Coaches and Score from Kneel-Down Formation, Angering Falcons Coach

Saints Players Defy Their Own Coaches and Score from Kneel-Down Formation, Angering Falcons Coach

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Reserve quarterback Jameis Winston and New Orleans’ offense capped off a convincing victory with an aggressive play call that defied the orders of their own coaches and upset the rival Atlanta Falcons.

Leading 41-17 with 1:10 left, the Saints lined up in “victory formation” — indicating Winston intended to take a knee to run out the clock — but surprisingly handed off to Jamaal Williams for a 1-yard touchdown that made the final score 48-17.

“They did that on their own. That’s not acceptable,” Allen said, adding that Smith “should be” upset about it

Winston, who was in for mop-up duty after the game was no longer in doubt, said he understood the coaches’ call but opted to let the players in the huddle decide on whether to give Williams a chance to score what wound up being his only touchdown of the season.

“The score was already 41-17, so I don’t know how much worse it can get, but I got a ton of respect for Arthur Smith and the coach that he is,” Winston said. “I didn’t want to disrespect (Smith). That was not my intention. My intention was to lead the team that I’ve been with the entire year and we made a collective decision that we wanted to get one of our guys that they fight with — blood, sweat and tears, every game — in the end zone. I’m going to feel good about that.

“This is the thing: It’s about the team,” Winston continued. “It’s not about regrets. It’s not about anything else. It’s about us as a team making a collective decision. But I do apologize to Dennis. I apologize to DA because that was not his call.”

While Smith could be seen angrily questioning Allen about the Williams touchdown, he said he didn’t recall what he said to Allen and largely eschewed an opportunity to criticize the Saints after the game.

New Orleans Saints head coach Dennis Allen looks on during the first half of a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Caesars Superdome on January 07, 2024, in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“They can do whatever they want. There are no rules against it,” Smith said. “We didn’t stop them the second half, and they can do whatever they want. It is what it is. Hats off to them. They kicked our you-know-what in the second half. That’s their prerogative. It’s also my prerogative to tell him how I feel. Credit to them. They can do whatever they want there.”

Falcons defensive lineman Calais Campbell said he understood why Saints players wanted that touchdown for Williams, but 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 then ball.

“I was just frustrated with that because I just feel like there was a way to do it, if you’re gonna do it,” Campbell said.

The play almost never happened. It was set up by Tryann Mathieu, who intercepted Falcons reserve Logan Woodside and returned the ball 74 yards before being tackled by tight end John Fitzpatrick and receiver Mack Hollins at the Atlanta 1.

Saints starting quarterback Derek Carr, who watched the play from the sideline after his four-touchdown day was done, said he knew that offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. had called for a kneel-down. But Carr also said he understood his teamates’ urgency to orchestrate a touchdown run for Williams — who led the NFL in touchdowns rushing for Detroit last season with a Lions single-season record 17, but had been shut out of the end zone this season.

“Just as players you just love your buddies so much, there ain’t nothing sometimes in this league that a coach can do,” Carr said. “Players sometimes want to take care of their guys and coaches end up having to deal with that wrath sometimes. That happens.

“I’m happy for Jamaal, but I understand the whole situation,” Carr added. “I know that’s not what Pete called.”

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