(Editor’s note: This is excerpted from Mike Sando’s Pick Six of Dec. 18, 2023.)
Sean Payton blasting quarterback Russell Wilson on the sideline, then suggesting he was merely upset about officiating, invited all sorts of speculation.
It’s hard to fault Payton for losing his cool when officials wiped out a Broncos touchdown with an offensive offside call that seemed indefensible. As one former head coach put it, officials have “lost their minds” searching for penalties associated with Philadelphia’s tush-push plays.
It’s just difficult to understand why Payton would funnel any of that rage toward his quarterback.
Sean Payton downplays sideline flare up with Russell Wilson
The nature of Payton’s relationship with Wilson faded into the background during a five-game winning streak fueled by opponent turnovers. With Denver losing two of its past three, including 42-17 at Detroit on Saturday, tensions appear to be flaring again. The subject is captivating because the Broncos must decide after the season whether to fully guarantee another $37 million in Wilson’s contract.
A search through Payton’s in-season media sessions turned up a couple of mildly positive sentences regarding the quarterback he inherited, but not much. It doesn’t necessarily mean coach and quarterback are headed for divorce, but Payton seems fine letting the public wonder, a departure from how he treated Drew Brees during his New Orleans tenure.
Some of this could simply be an old-school approach to motivation and control. But the disdain Payton showed for Wilson early in the season and again on the sideline Saturday appeared pointed.
While it’s possible Wilson suggested Payton should have initiated a replay challenge or should have gone for it on fourth down instead of trying a field goal, inviting an angry reaction from Payton, two coaches familiar with Wilson’s’ tenure in Seattle offered another possibility. They noted that Wilson changed plays in Seattle to get himself into a rhythm, and that if he had changed Payton’s plays during the drive in question, the coach could have been delivering a forceful verdict.
“I don’t think Sean is beholden to anyone there,” another coach said, “so he is going to let everyone know when he’s pissed. He just wasn’t very pissed all the time in New Orleans. They were winning.”
(Photo: RJ Sangosti / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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