Thanks to my co-worker Bill for making me look less ridiculous. Or more ridiculous. I can’t decide.
Thanks to my co-worker Bill for making me look less ridiculous. Or more ridiculous. I can’t decide.
The Saints play the Bears Monday night and I have no idea what will happen. No one does. We’ve all been consistently and pathetically wrong about this team since the opening kickoff. So today I’m not going to waste your time with empty words in an empty column about the drama of the past week. Forget Kenny Vaccaro and Joe Morgan.
Whatever is happening behind the scenes boils down to this — the offense and defense are playing inexplicably bad right now and have for most of the season. That much is clear. Let’s stop beating the drum of hope and holding on to preseason dreams that have turned into regular season nightmares. Spare yourself the time, trouble and effort and begin looking forward to a high draft choice in 2015 and a chance to get better next season. Maybe.
About Sean Payton’s record
With Sunday’s loss to the Panthers, the Saints wrapped up their fourth .500 or worse season since 2006. Sean Payton has been on the sidelines for three of them. Not bad considering where the Saints once lived in the NFL neighborhood. Still, a troubling trend. In nine seasons of the Payton-Brees era, four of them have been average to below average. There’s some greatness and a Super Bowl championship mixed in there, but mediocrity is slowly becoming the norm. The glory days were 2009-11 and Sean Payton has had trouble recapturing that magic.
2014: 5-8 (so far)
About the defense
I look forward to discussing this on our Saints on 6 pregame show Monday night. Maybe we were wrong to expect the defense to be good this year after it finished #4 in the NFL in 2013. Everyone expected a bad defense coming off the dreadful Steve Spagnuolo era. Maybe Rob Ryan and his troops got lucky. Maybe they overachieved. Maybe this is the reality. Maybe last season was smoke and mirrors.
About Monday night
I want to say the Saints will be humiliated on national television, having not recovered from getting blown out of the Superdome by the previously dysfunctional and inefficient Panthers. If I write that, the Saints will certainly win.
I also want to say the Saints will beat the Bears decisively, because they were so humiliated last week and it’s a prime time game and Drew Brees and blah, blah, blah. If I write that, the Saints will certainly lose.
So I don’t know what will happen and won’t pretend that I do.
Enjoy the game.
UPDATE: This was all wrong. So very wrong.
I’ve gone on record as liking the Saints to win their second straight, 34-17 over the Panthers.
Panthers QB Cam Newton is a disaster. Carolina is 27th in the league in points scored. Newton has been sacked 25 times in the past six games. Cam Jordan and Junior Galette just perked up.
The Panthers’ defense is Swiss cheese. Carolina has been out scored 178-85 in the first half this season. A fast start by the Saints will be huge.
Drew Brees should feast on the Panthers young secondary. A rookie, Bene’ Benwikere, is making his first start at cornerback and rookie Tre Boston is making his second start at free safety. They’ve never faced Brees before.
Jimmy Graham will emerge. The Saints All-Pro tight end has been too quiet for too long. He wasn’t targeted last week. With former Saint Roman Harper in the Panthers’ secondary, I expect Graham to be targeted often today.
If the Saints have any thoughts of doing anything the rest of this season, they have to beat the Panthers convincingly.
We are being seduced. And we’re falling for it again.
Just when we were about to walk away, the Saints have come crawling back to us, begging us to stay. This was going to finally be the year — again. Dreams of a second Super Bowl title should be dancing in our heads instead of flickering playoff hopes.
An 0-2 start became 1-3, 2-4, 4-7 and 5-7. That’s enough turbulence to make frequent fliers nauseous. At 4-7, fans were jumping ship. The Who Dat Nation was in peril. Drew Brees was declining. Sean Payton and Rob Ryan hated each other.
But then the Saints dominated the Steelers. The defense, despite giving up two garbage touchdowns late, played like everyone thought it would when the season started. Brees threw five touchdown passes and played mistake-free. It was a performance seen in only one other game this season — the 44-23 dismantling of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in week 8.
I wrote last week before the Steelers game that the Saints aren’t a good football team — 5-7 says they still aren’t. But they’re better, and this is when a team wants to be playing its best football. Champions are made in December. The team that gets hot at the right time is capable of doing anything.
So was last week the turning point or just another tease? The Panthers, Bears, Falcons and Buccaneers down the stretch sets up perfectly for the Saints to run the table. A 9-7 finish with a division championship and home playoff game would reset things nicely headed into the postseason. That can happen if they’ve turned the corner — IF we’re not being teased again.
Linebacker Junior Galette fired some people up this week when he was questioned about a lack of veteran leadership on the Saints defense after the offseason departures of key players like Jabari Greer, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. He said the guys in the Saints’ locker room right now are better than all the guys who left.
Vilma and Smith fired back at Galette on Twitter. Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita, other former players, fired back as well. They said Galette should win a championship then talk.
Still, Galette was sticking up for his guys on defense who have been criticized all season. He’s not going to admit a lack of leadership. He knows he’s in it for the long haul with young guys like himself, Cam Jordan, Kenny Vaccaro and others.
If this mid-week spat helps give the defense a late-season burst, so be it. If some feathers are ruffled in the process, oh well.
The players in the locker room now are the ones who have to find a way to win. Find a way to the playoffs. Vilma and Smith were key cogs in the 2009 championship machine, but those days are long gone.
The future is now. Four more games to write a 2014 success story, for Galette to build his own legacy.
Just hope this isn’t another seduction that will leave us feeling cheated again in the end.
Saints 34, Panthers 17
A call was put out for for local media members to get together at the Pelicans facility on Airline Drive to compete for Coast-saving supremacy.
The Pelicans recently launched the ‘Quest for the Coast’ game on the team app. In a nutshell, a flying Pierre the Pelican moves along the coast collecting items that help with coastal restoration and avoiding the ones that hurt. The Pelicans are the first NBA team to launch such an in-app game.
To help bring awareness to the new game and the Pelicans’ focus on coastal restoration, the ‘Quest for the Coast Media Challenge’ was born. To make sure we all showed up, they offered to feed us. That guarantees attendance.
The trash talk heated up Thursday morning, hours before the games began. Then, at noon, it was time for people to back up all the talk.
I defeated WWL sports anchor Bryan Salmond in my first round matchup, but lost in round two to WGNO’s Anne Cutler by THREE points. Devastating. The final saw WWL Radio’s T-Bob Hebert and WVUE’s Garland Gillen battle it out. Hebert, the crowd favorite, lost a tight one, allowing Gillen to claim the title.
My colleagues, sports anchors Sharief Ishaq and Fletcher Mackel, both lost in round one. Of all the competitors, Fletcher had the low score total of the day — 41.1. Embarrassing.
There were even trophies. No one on Team 6 received one.
Better luck next year.
Check out the photos below. Some are mine, some are borrowed from various participants’ twitter accounts.
How do you holiday shop? Do you get it done early or procrastinate?
WDSU reporter Andy Cunningham answers questions.
Former Saints head coach Jim Mora sounds off during the WDSU ‘Saints on 6′ pregame broadcast Monday night.
At times, the Saints defense reminds me of that old Spike and Chester cartoon. Spike is the big, intimidating bulldog in the red sweater. Chester is small and annoying, but Spike is everything he wants to be. He admires Spike.
“Hey Spike, you wanna play ball? Huh, you wanna play ball?,” Chester says in the cartoon clip as he bounces around Spike’s feet. “Huh Spike, you wanna? Huh, huh, huh Spike? You wanna? Huh?”
Spike gives Chester a big slap, but he comes back for more.
“Nah, you wouldn’t like that would you Spike?,” Chester says. “Hey Spike, how about we chase cars, huh, does that sound like fun?”
Spike slaps Chester again.
The great thing about Chester is that no matter what, he always comes back for more. He never quits. He’s constantly annoying Spike, much like the Saints’ defense annoys Who Dat Nation.
Saints’ opponents treat the Saints defense like Spike treats Chester. Poor Chester is determined though.
Rob Ryan’s unit is giving up 370 yards per game, that’s good for 20th in the league. Not terrible, considering what this defense has been through. Safety, a position of strength going into the season, is now a potential major liability.
* Safety Jairus Byrd played in three games before being lost for the season with a knee injury.
* Safety Rafael Bush went down last week with a broken leg for the rest of the season.
* Rookie safety Vinnie Sunseri is on injured reserve with a broken arm.
* Top cornerback Keenan Lewis played on one leg against the Bengals after sustaining a knee injury the week before.
* There isn’t a legitimate NFL starter in the rest of the cornerback bunch. The Champ Bailey experiment was a bust. He is now retired.
* The loss of veterans like Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith all at once has left a bigger leadership void than the team likely anticipated.
The Saints paid big free agent money for Byrd and let former first round pick Malcolm Jenkins walk. There weren’t many people debating the move then, but seeing Jenkins rejuvenated in Philadelphia makes one wonder.
What if the Saints had re-signed Jenkins for far less than it took to sign Byrd and went after a legitimate corner on the other side of Lewis? The Saints knew they had major question marks at cornerback and didn’t seriously address the issue.
As many anticipated, teams are torching the likes of Corey White, Brian Dixon, Patrick Robinson and Stanley Jean-Baptiste on a regular basis. Opposing defensive coordinators must salivate when game-planning the Saints.
Teams are converting 46 percent of their third downs against the Saints. 46 percent! Only the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons are worse.
The defense has pressured the quarterback better lately, but still has only 22 sacks on the season. Buffalo’s defense, the league leader, has 39. On top of that, the Saints’ six interceptions and four fumble recoveries are far below the league average.
The Saints have lost four games which they led in the final two minutes. Four blown leads. That’s an extreme lack of ability to close out games and it’s disturbing.
But here’s the thing — the Saints, at 4-6, are tied for first place in the dreadful NFC South. First place. Despite all the problems, all the drama, they still control their own destiny. There are six games left to write a success story about the 2014 season.
Last season, when the Saints’ defense finished 4th in the NFL, it gave up about 70 yards less per game than this season. You know what that equates to? A few big third-and-long stops. A long run here and there that is stuffed instead. This defense, despite its problems, isn’t that far away from making a positive difference in games.
The defense, like Chester, just needs to keep coming back and ignore the guy who loves slapping it. Chester eventually gets Spike to come around by telling him he knows where to find a cat. All of a sudden, Chester had the upper hand.
Forget how it ended. We all remember the backwards pass, the sideline smiles at inappropriate times and the inconsistency. But today is a day for Saints fans to cheer loudly for Aaron Brooks when his induction into the Saints Hall of Fame is recognized on the field.
A lot of people griped about Brooks’ selection, but I don’t have a problem with it. He is a significant part of the team’s history and was loved by Who Dat Nation, even if the love was fleeting.
Aaron Brooks threw for 123 touchdowns and 20,261 yards in his Saints career. In 2000, he led the Saints to their first-ever playoff win over the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.
He got the Saints a playoff win. Did everyone forget how long they waited for that to happen?
Since then, the Saints have won six playoff games, including a Super Bowl.
Aaron Brooks was at the beginning of it all. He deserves everything he gets today.
Any column that begins with, “I was listening to a post game show last Sunday…” isn’t going to go well, but that’s where I’m headed.
First, I love Saints fans. The passion of the Who Dat Nation is tough to beat.
Two people in two weeks — a Packers fan and a 49ers fan — have written the Times-Picayune to express their gratitude for a wonderful game day experience inside the Superdome.
That’s part of what makes New Orleans great.
We welcome visitors. We make friends with fans of other teams and are buying them beers by halftime. Win or lose, we’re hugging them by the end of the game. No doubt, Saints fans are a unique bunch.
However, within that persona of great fandom there are the people you seriously wonder about. They sit in front of you or behind you during a game. They know more than the coaches on the field. They second guess everything. They are the true Monday Morning Quarterback in real time during the game.
And that brings me to my point — get off Drew Brees’ back.
A caller to that postgame show last Sunday had seen enough. He said it was time to bench Drew Brees. He’s declining, the caller said.
The host asked who he’d like to see at quarterback. The caller said, “the backup quarterback.” He didn’t know Luke McCown’s name, but thought he should have his chance to get in the game and show what he could do. He was serious.
First problem — you don’t know the backup’s name!
I’m sure Sean Payton is anxious to bench a future Hall of Fame quarterback and hand the keys to his offense to Luke McCown, a guy who has thrown for 2,035 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 seasons. Nothing against McCown. By all accounts he’s a very capable backup quarterback and a good teammate.
But he’s not Drew Brees. He’s not an NFL starting quarterback.
If the Saints released Brees tomorrow, three quarters of the league would fight to sign him. Even 49ers fans, on that same postgame show, said they’d swap Colin Kaepernick for Brees.
I do not believe Brees is in any sort of major decline or in some free fall before our eyes. I do believe there are a lot of new parts on this year’s Saints team that are slowly coming together.
Has Brees pressed at times and made poor decisions? Absolutely. Has he contributed to a few losses this season? Absolutely.
He has the weight of the team on his shoulders. But where would the Saints be without Brees? They wouldn’t be 4-5. He is the glue that holds the franchise together. He IS the franchise.
Brees has thrown for 2,816 yards, good for fourth in the NFL. Only Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck are ahead of him. The Saints’ offense is third in the league overall and sixth in scoring offense at 27.9 points per game.
Brees is on pace for his fourth consecutive 5,000 yard season and is at the third-highest completion percentage of his career (68.4 percent).
The quarterback gets too much credit when things are going great and too much of the blame when things are going poorly. Turnovers come in bunches. Sometimes they come at awful times. Brees admits he has to play better, but he’s not the only one.
I’m 39 and Brees is obviously the best quarterback the Saints have employed in my lifetime. There will be rough times ahead in the post-Brees era.
Remember now. Enjoy now. Treasure now. Win or lose, a Hall-of-Famer is quarterbacking the franchise with which the Who Dat Nation lives and dies.
There is no one better to lead the Saints’ offense. There is no one better to lead the Saints. Drew Brees gives the Saints their best chance to win.
Anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t thinking clearly.
Oh yeah, and the Saints will beat the Bengals because Drew Brees will bounce back. That’s what leaders and future Hall of Famers do.
Saints win, 30-24.
The monkey is off their collective backs. The Saints won a regular season game on the road, halting a seven-game skid.
Everyone can r-e-l-a-x. Relax.
The Carolina Panthers, the leaders in the NFC South heading into Thursday’s primetime matchup, were hardly a speed bump en route to the Saints improving to an even 4-4 on the season.
The offensive was impressive after a slow start, but it was the defense that stepped up again and again, making critical plays that were sorely missing in the Saints’ 1-3 start. Carolina was only able to muster 231 total yards and 10 points. Saints cornerback Corey White recorded his second interception in two weeks. Linebacker Junior Galette sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and forced a fumble that led to the Saints first touchdown. Newton, who posted a 39.4 quarterback rating, completed 10 of 28 passes and was sacked four times. He was a disaster.
Offensively, the Saints bounced back from a couple of first quarter turnovers. That’s tough to do anywhere, much less when you’re playing your second game in four days on the road against a division rival. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham (7 catches, 83 yards) rediscovered their rhythm and Mark Ingram busted through the Carolina defensive for 100 yards on 30 carries. That’s 272 yards on 54 carries since Sunday night.
“Mark’s been real consistent; the O line has done a heck of a job,” quarterback Drew Brees said in his postgame news conference. “We’ve done it in spite of not having any true backs here the last couple of weeks. Pierre and obviously those guys are a big part of what we do, but Mark has carried the load and has come in and done a great job when his number has been called.”
At 4-4, the strategy for the second half of the season is simple.
“We’ve got to keep getting better,” head coach Sean Payton said after the game. “We’ve got to keep improving and we’ll do it.”
They’ll be able to do it mostly in the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with five of the Saints’ final eight games at home.
And there’s this team evolution to build on — the Saints are now 1-0 on the road since leaving New Orleans on Wednesday. That’s something. And they’re 2-0 since Sean Payton ditched his sideline glasses. Is that the makings of a Super Bowl contender or what?
Next up — a home game against the San Francisco 49ers two Sundays from now. I think the Who Dat Nation will be ready.
Yes, Thursday’s game is on the road where the Saints are 0-4 this season. But Sunday night’s dominating victory over the Packers shows the Saints might have found something that had been missing through the first six games.
Quarterback Drew Brees rediscovered the deep ball with the help of speedy rookie wideout Brandin Cooks. He now has 40 catches for 372 yards and two touchdowns. That’s obviously a very positive development.
Running back Mark Ingram, known at times on Twitter by the hashtag #AngryIngram, is running with ferocious authority. He is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and rolling over defenders like a bowling ball wrecking pins.
And don’t forget about the return of fullback Erik Lorig. The Saints signed the stout run blocker for a reason in the offseason.
He made a difference Sunday, blowing people off the line of scrimmage and helping spring Ingram on numerous runs. His return helps the offense in ways that don’t always show up on the stat sheet.
Defensively, the Saints have played their best two games in the past two games. Minus a late collapse against Detroit that cost the team a win, Rob Ryan’s bunch is playing with swagger again and, yes, creating turnovers.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has historically given the Saints problems and that will likely be the case again, but the Saints D will have opportunities to make plays against him.
Ingram should be able to take advantage of the Panthers porous run defense, which gives up 135 yards per game. Brees, who probably knows the tendencies of former Saints safety Roman Harper better than anyone in the league, will likely test him with the deep ball early and often. The Panthers offense and defense are 24th and 21st in the league respectively.
The Saints defense, like it did against the Packers, must limit big plays and tighten up in the red zone.
With five of the Saints final eight games at home in the Dome, hitting the 4-4 mark on Thursday is critical. This game is for first place in the underwhelming NFC South and I think the Saints will get it done.
Book it — Saints 34, Panthers 24.