MOBILE, Ala. — If anyone can relate to what Saints coach Sean Payton is feeling right now, it is Jon Gruden.
The Raiders coach endured a playoff loss after a controversial officiating decision 17 years ago. That led Gruden to call Payton on Monday and give him some words of encouragement.
“It’s a disappointing way to lose a game,” said Gruden, who is coaching the North team here at the Senior Bowl. “I don’t know what the ramifications of that are going to be. We all saw it. We all know there will be some action taken, I’m sure.”
Gruden said he was not sure what the NFL would or should do in reaction to the Saints losing the NFC Championship game to the Rams after the officials failed to call an obvious pass interference penalty against Los Angeles.
For Gruden, it brought back memories of the 2001 playoffs when, in his first stint with Oakland, the Raiders lost to the Patriots in the AFC divisional round after Tom Brady appeared to fumble the ball and the Raiders recovered it, but then the referees ruled that Brady had “tucked” the ball, referring to a little-known rule. Adam Vinatieri kicked a game-winning field goal in the snow and Gruden’s Raiders were sent home fuming.
“I was involved in a playoff game that ended in quite dramatic fashion,” Gruden said. “So [Payton] is now. He and I will have a couple of hot dogs and a couple glasses of Coke here and talk about things in the future I’m sure.”
Can you ever get over a loss like this?
“I don’t think so,” Gruden said. “If you really want to dwell on it, you don’t ever get over it. It’s the last time that team will be together. It will never be the same. Those guys fought for as long and as hard as they could. It will sting forever.”
Gruden is coaching here after the Raiders finished 4-12 in his first season back on the sideline. The Raiders have the No. 2 pick in April’s draft. Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers’ coach, is the coach of the South team.
For Gruden, it was not an easy return to the game as he tries to get the Raiders back to the playoffs.
“Obviously, there were a lot of hard parts,” Gruden said. “We struggled to win games. That was hard. It’s not easy to lose. I think that’s the hardest part of this reset. It’s also exciting to have an opportunity to work with a group of guys that are fully committed to bringing the Raiders back.”
Making the challenge more daunting for Gruden is how strong the Chiefs look going forward. Gruden fawned over Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is only 23.
“I can’t get over how he performed — good weather, bad weather, in adversity — as a first-year starter. I can’t get over it,” Gruden said. “I think it’s one of the great accomplishments I’ve ever seen.”
Gruden said the toughest part of facing Mahomes is his ability to extend plays and make something happen after he is initially stopped.
“It’s unbelievable. You’ve got to defend two plays,” Gruden said. “Andy Reid’s a heck of a coach. He calls some good plays, but they don’t always work. When he calls a play that is covered and there’s nothing there and he gets a 28-yard gain or a touchdown out of it, it’s sickening, isn’t it? It’s maddening to people that aren’t fans of the Chiefs. … Mahomes is on the cutting edge of different. That’s for sure.”