Sean Payton Says He Doesn’t Remember Giving Devonta Freeman The “Choke” Sign

Bryan Brandom
(Photo: Getty Images)

Like New Orleans Saints fans before him, head coach Sean Payton appeared to rub the Atlanta Falconsinability to hold a lead in their faces.

It ended up blowing up in his.

After a pair of Devonta Freeman rushes netted just one yard early in the fourth quarter of the teams’ Thursday meeting, Payton—who has a history of clashing with running backs—looked to grab his throat and repeat the word “choke” in the Falcons back’s direction.

Four plays later, Matt Ryan connected with Mohamed Sanu for a touchdown to tie the contest up at 17.

After a Saints punt, a 52-yard Matt Bryant field goal gave Atlanta a 20-17 lead with under four minutes left.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees then threw a back-breaking interception with the team 11 yards from scoring a go-ahead touchdown. From there, New Orleans had the opportunity to force Atlanta to punt then attempt to get into field goal range to tie things up.

But an unsportsmanlike penalty on Payton on a Falcons second-and-7 all but ended things.

“Man, I saw it,” Freeman said of Payton’s choking gesture. “That man don’t know nothing about choking. He ain’t from where I’m from, he don’t know about choking, but he’s a good competitor, so probably the ‘competes’ probably came out, but we don’t let that bother me. He don’t know nothing about choking.”

The back rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown.

After his team fell to 9-4 on the year, Payton claimed no recollection of the “choking” incident, and laid the loss at the officials’ feet: “I don’t remember that. … It’s frustrating when you have a game, instead of it being decided on the field like it’s supposed to, you have a crew make so many mistakes in one event.”

Also frustrating? Choking.