Let’s just cut to the chase. Here’s the NFL’s second-ever pick-two:
.@_DJack01 just returned the 2-point conversion 98 YARDS TO THE HOUSE!!!— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/gDnkWZyPcD
A pick-two is much more hilarious than any other pick, even if it is less consequential than a pick-six. Two-point conversions are already bizarre scenarios, and adding a defensive score to the situation just makes everything weirder. None of the stats compiled during two-point conversions actually count in a box score: The yards a player picks up don’t count, a pass attempt doesn’t count, a sack doesn’t count—you get the idea. The NFL adopted two-point conversions in 1994 and has always treated them like shadow plays that almost don’t count, so when a defender snatches the ball and takes it back 98 yards, he doesn’t get credit for an interception. Panthers corner Donte Jackson will get credit for a defensive two-point conversion, but Brees won’t have that play show up as an interception for him, even though the pick was entirely his fault. Put simply, everything about this play is dumb as hell.
Even if Drew Brees had thrown it away there, the Saints would have been up five points—he had no reason to force a pass, especially one that could be intercepted and returned 98 yards. Instead the Saints had to sweat out a three-point lead. And the pick-two wasn’t the end of the weirdness. On their next possession, the Saints fell victim to the worst rule in sports when Tommylee Lewis reached for the goal line with under two minutes left, fumbled, and the football sailed out of the end zone.
The Saints fumble into the end zone!@Panthers will take over at the 20— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2018
: #NOvsCAR on ESPN pic.twitter.com/bUyXcG6Dsb
That counts as a touchback, and it gave the Panthers the ball down three with a sudden chance to win the game. But the Panthers immediately squandered the chance, picking up just 19 yards in seven plays before failing to convert a fourth-and-5. The Saints won, 12-9, so the pick-two didn’t cost Brees the game. But it did put a final nail in the coffin of his MVP campaign.
Brees is one of the NFL’s only superstars who seems to be loved by everyone, and it would have been fun if, after years of playing second or third or fourth banana to guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers, he finally broke through in his 18th season to win an MVP award. Brees was on a blistering pace through November and found himself neck and neck with Patrick Mahomes II in that race, but in the last three weeks, he’s faltered, averaging just 177 passing yards per game over that stretch with two touchdowns, three interceptions, and one pick-two. In that timeframe, Mahomes has 915 passing yards, eight touchdowns, one interception, and zero pick-twos. It’s over—even Philip Rivers has a stronger case than Brees at this point. After another rough performance in prime time (Brees finished 23-of-35 for zero touchdowns and one interception that wasn’t the pick-two), the NFL’s all-time passing leader is once again the second (or third or fourth) banana in the league.
Ultimately, this pick-two was much less disastrous than the last one, which happened just two short years ago when Matt Ryan threw an interception (if I’m allowed to call it that, I don’t know) to Chiefs safety Eric Berry on a two-point conversion attempt in Week 13. That actually proved to be the difference in that game, as Atlanta lost 29-28.
I’m sure Brees will take the win even if his lackluster performance has cost him a chance at an MVP trophy. But if the Saints blow a big lead in the Super Bowl, then we’ll have to start talking about a pick-two curse—which would be just about the only thing that could make the pick-two any weirder.