Sean Payton was seen making a choke gesture after Devonta Freeman made a play near the Saints sideline during the Atlanta Falcons' 20-17 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday.
Granted, the Saints were leading 17-10 at the time. It came with about 12 minutes to go in the game. Freeman took a carry towards the Saints sideline that went for no gain. He went out of bounds right where Payton, the Saints' head coach, was standing.
Payton looked at Freeman, and as Freeman was running back towards the field, the two exchanged some words. Then Payton could be seen making a choking sign around his neck while clearly saying choke.
Payton said after the game, "I don't remember that." So, we don't know if he was referring to the Falcons' Super Bowl choke, or if he doesn't believe Freeman is living up to his $41 million contract as the league's second-highest paid running back this season. Or something else.
But Freeman had a good game, rushing for 94 yards, the second-best total he’s had this season. He scored the Falcons’ opening touchdown in the second quarter, as well.
The Saints couldn't capitalize off Matt Ryan's three interceptions and allowed the Falcons to score the last 10 points of the game to win their eighth game of the season and keep their playoff hopes alive. Linebacker Deion Jones had an amazing interception in the end zone to win the game for the Falcons.
"That man don't know nothing about choking," Freeman said at his locker after the game, clearly remembering the exchange . "He ain't from where I'm from. He don't know about choking. He a good competitor, so the competes probably came out. But he don't know nothing about choking."
Freeman didn't know what Payton was getting at, and said they really don't know each other that well.
It is possible it had nothing to do with Freeman and Payton was trying to mention something that happened elsewhere on the play. And with Payton "not remembering," we may never know.
But Freeman saw it. And so did millions on national TV. And in the end, it was the Saints who were the ones choking.