I once made the mistake of telling Al Davis how last week’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs really helps us in our next game. It probably would have been better if I had told him in an open area where I could have quickly escaped the wrath I endured for the next 40 minutes. Instead, I was trapped with him in his Cadillac while I drove him from the Oakland Airport to his home in the Oakland hills.
What Mr. Davis explained to me in no uncertain terms is that there are no virtues in losing, and if you think there are, you are more likely to lose another time. That conversation, for nearly an hour, was one way. I may have uttered a response here or there, but only in agreement that he was right and I was bordering on insubordination to think anything different.
In truth, from my perspective, I was right, but had no need to push the point with my boss. From his perspective, he was right, and I understood after the drive why he was.
When I was in the Raiders front office in the mid 1970’s, the slogans “Commitment to Excellence,” “Pride and Poise,” and “Pro Football’s Winningest Organization,” all had meaning and carried weight. Losing was not in the formula of the Silver and Black, and anything other than a true distaste for even the thought that there was something good out of a loss was reason for, well, what I got on that longer than usual drive from the airport to Mr. Davis’ home.
I didn’t tell him that day my side of the equation, there was no room to interrupt his lesson, but I will tell you today that losing has its benefits for future results, and winning can set up a team for disaster soon after. Case in point, the San Francisco 49ers beat the New Orleans Saints last week on a last second field goal, 48-46, in a game that had more fireworks that most Fourth of July celebrations. On the heels of that win what do you think is going to happen next?
Yesterday, the 49ers lost their first game of the year to a team without a winning record. In three other tough motivational spots this season coming off emotional wins San Francisco got straight-up victories but point spread losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals. Two other times, against quality opponents, San Francisco got beat on the last play of the game, falling to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime and against the Baltimore Ravens on a last second field goal.
Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons is a testament to a pair of factors, first, last week’s emotionally and physically draining two-point win in New Orleans set them up for a fall. Second, the 49ers are now looking down the gunbarrel of not being able to win over subpar competition in bad situations. The team that was the last in the league to fall from the unbeaten ranks, is now on trial to see if they are going to finish the season with the top seed in the National Football Conference or a wild card spot.
Just between you and me, the loss yesterday may serve them well next week against the Rams and when they close out the season in Seattle against the Seahawks … but I’m glad Mr. Davis isn’t around to hear me make that contention.
But, how about the New Orleans Saints?
They were in the same exhausting game against the 49ers last week and lost it at home. Do they bounce of that defeat with a big effort tonight?
They host the Indianapolis Colts, who need a win here to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. The Colts come into play tonight with a 6-7 mark, but there is something to consider when looking at that record. When their star receiver, T.Y. Hilton is missing from their lineup, as he has for six games this season, Indianapolis has only one win and five losses. For you math majors, that means the Colts with Hilton on the field are 5-2.
Hilton will be on the field tonight.
Is that good enough to beat the Saints?
Maybe not, when considering New Orleans is both in a battle to claim the top seed in the NFC and coming off a loss. But it is enough to dissuade a wager against Indianapolis tonight when they are getting a bloated point spread of nine points.
The Saints had a similar game, with a different result, on the opening Monday Night game of the season when, like the 49ers last week, they gave up the lead late and then won it on a game ending field goal. Following that emotional win, New Orleans got hammered in Los Angeles by the Rams, 27-9. And the loser in that game, the Houston Texans, bounced off that loss with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
What does that mean?
It means, don’t bet against the Saints tonight … but not necessarily on them either.