FOX Sports Insider
If only National Football League coaches would stop toeing the line and speaking in vague cliches. Why don’t they just tell us exactly what they think?
If only … wait, Sean Payton did what? Got it.
Payton has never pulled many punches, and his time as a television analyst before returning to coaching with the Denver Broncos often made for enjoyable fare.
Even so, his eruption this week, launching into a blistering round of criticism aimed at former Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett and Hackett’s current employer, the New York Jets, was on a whole different level.
Stuff just got real. No one is entirely sure why that is the case, but it is an indisputable fact. The Broncos and Jets weren’t particularly relevant rivals a few days ago. Now they hate each other with vitriolic fervor, and the Week 5 matchup that will see the Jets head to Denver has suddenly become one of the most anticipated games of the entire campaign.
Payton did a lot of unloading in an interview with USA Today football writer Jarrett Bell, so we’ll touch upon the explosive highlights here.
There was no room for confusion. He absolutely lit up Hackett, who was fired after taking the Broncos to a 5-12 record after landing Russell Wilson in a blockbuster trade the previous offseason.
“Everybody’s got a little stink on their hands,” Payton said. “It’s not just Russell. It was a (poor) offensive line. It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.”
“Everything I heard about last season,” he added, “We’re doing the opposite.”
That would have been enough of a jab, but there was more. Payton next turned his attention to the Jets, who signed Hackett as their offensive coordinator in the same summer they landed Aaron Rodgers. The pair worked together previously when Hackett was Rodgers’ offensive coordinator in Green Bay.
“It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed,” Payton said. “And that happened here. Part of it was their own fault, relative to spending so much (expletive) time trying to win the offseason – the PR, the pomp and circumstance, marching people around and all this stuff.
“We’re not doing any of that. The Jets did that this year. You watch. ‘Hard Knocks.’ All of it. I can see it coming.”
No one knows precisely what Payton is hoping to achieve here. Scratch that; Sean Payton does. Because make no mistake, none of this is by accident. He didn’t just wake up the other morning and decide to stick a pin in a Nathaniel Hackett voodoo doll because he felt like it. There was a purpose behind it, a competitive purpose, and that’s part of why he has been a successful NFL coach.
We can speculate, of course. What better way to show your current players that you have their back – and especially your quarterback coming off a miserable campaign – than essentially laying all the blame of what went wrong last year at the former coach’s feet?
What better way of making your fan base feel that the corner has been turned than by declaring that some other team with a high-profile new QB is about to start experiencing difficulties like the ones they just lived through?
And frankly, because football fans are all geared a certain way and we can’t resist it, what better way of getting everyone together than by picking a fight, one that will surely elicit a response?
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It has already. Of course it has. It had to. Jets head coach Robert Saleh tried not to bite, but there is a streak of tribal pride running through every football program and there was no way Saleh could completely let Payton’s comments pass.
“I’m not going acknowledge Sean,” Saleh told reporters, before acknowledging Sean. “He’s been in the league for a while, he can say whatever the hell he wants. As far as what we have going on here, I kind of live by the saying, ‘If you ain’t got no haters, you ain’t popping.’ So hate away.
“Obviously, we’re doing something right if you’ve got to talk about us when we don’t play you until Week 5.”
This is kind of great, isn’t it? A prospective dogfight spawned from the dog days of summer. Here we have it, the feistiest new rivalry in the NFL and some juice that will keep flowing all the way between now and the first weekend in October.
It’s angry and petty and, if we’re being honest, borderline absurd. But you take what you can get in terms of football action when it’s not even August yet and this – thanks Sean Payton – was action.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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