The emblematic sequence for the New Orleans Saints' offensive struggles came late in the fourth quarter, trailing 16-8.
The remaining portion of the drive was a tragic example of game management.
After an incomplete pass, Brees burned his second timeout of the half to avoid another delay.
Following a second incomplete pass, Payton called a third-and-15 screen to Darren Sproles that was dropped.
With 3:57 remaining in a one-score game, Payton elected to try a 48-yard field goal into the wind on a rainy day with Shayne Graham, who had already missed a 45-yard try.
Graham missed badly, turning the ball over on downs.
It seemed clear most of the day that the Seahawks' physical defense got inside of the heads of the Saints' play-callers. Brees rarely tested the Seahawks' secondary and Payton elected to play for a low-percentage field goal instead of trusting his offense to make a play.
Payton said following the game that he never considered going for it given the down and distance.
Even if Graham made it, Payton's offense would again have to move the ball against a historically good pass defense.
The game management issues killed the Saints' chances of overcoming a sluggish first half. The team wasted all three of its second-half timeouts (two to avoid delay penalties and one to challenge a Seattle catch).
Marques Colston placed the cherry on top of the Saints' late-game meltdown. The receiver caught a pass on the sideline with eight seconds remaining. Instead of stepping out of bounds and setting up a decent Hail Mary opportunity, he spun toward the defense and chucked an illegal forward pass across the field, ending the game.
The Saints will head to the offseason wondering what could have been in their second bitter defeat in Seattle in just over a month.