Last year the Saints were the improbable heroes of the NFL. During the offseason they held a jazz funeral to bury simplistic notions of repeat glory. They created the slogan "Earn it" to signal that they intended to work hard and stay focused. During training camp coach Sean Payton gave the boys a surprise day off and took them to a water park. Linebacker Scott Fujita got injured while horsing around. This was the first sign the Saints were coming into the season ill-prepared for a difficult challenge.
As I watch the Eagles game (late 3rd quarter), I can see that that
Saints are about to squander their last opportunity to go the
playoffs. How? Well, the defense is (as usual) giving up big plays.
(Even when they stripped the ball from Donovan McNabb they couldn’t
recover the fumble and the play turned into a TD for the Eagles).
Sure, we’ve had some great players who are working hard and getting
things done. Guys like Drew Brees and Aaron Stecker. But, mostly, its
guys like Deverey Henderson dropping balls that would go for a big gain
(and killing an important drive). Or David Patterson, who a couple of
weeks ago had a ball stripped from behind as he held it like a loaf of
bread. Or Reggie Bush fumbling the ball or making game-losing tosses in
Last year the Saints played crisp and smart. This year they can’t
catch the easy ball, or hold on to it like a professional. It pains me
to say, but the coaching has deteriorated too. Sean Payton’s
performance this year has often been mediocre, usually when it counted
most. At the end of the first half of the Eagles game, with one play
left to set up a long field goal, he called a swing pass that lost 5
yards and required Martin Gramatica to attempt a field goal as long as
the longest he ever made. Miraculously, he made it, but Payton’s
aggressive play call was reminiscent of the attempted reverse at the
end of the Tampa Bay game. Another aggressive call (poorly executed by
Bush) that produced a game-losing fumble.
The Saints freely squandered timeouts this year. In many cases it’s
been a luxury they couldn’t afford. The offense, which is run by
Payton, is the biggest squanderer of timeouts. Today Payton challenged
a goal line ball spot that he thought was a touchdown; it was clearly
not a good challenge. The result? Another lost time out. But the
bigger loss was the momentum that the Saints had up to that point. The
Saints tried three run plays (after the Eagles defense had time to
rest) and got stuffed on 4th down. Poor play calling, poor game
decisions, and no points. And we gave the momentum to the Eagles.
The Saints won’t win this game and they won’t go to the playoffs;
they don’t deserve to. The only question left now is how will they
prepare for their next season? Cute slogans and jazz funerals don’t
mean squat. What happens on the field is what matters. The Saints
haven’t played well on the field because they didn’t properly prepare
for the challenge. Instead, they embarrassed themselves.
I went to the Tampa Bay game because Payton said he needed the fans
to help the team out. The fans showed up and did their job. We were
so loud that we actually caused several mishaps that led to scores
(e.g. Mike Mckenzie’s TD interception, and the safety by Will Smith
that seemed to put the game on ice). The fans did their part when game
hung in the balance, but the players and the coach let us down.
For most of the season it’s been like that. Sure, Brees played
smart and hard, and so did Stecker and a few others. But most of the
players looked like they were still at the water park, goofing around.
T-shirt slogans are for losers. Maybe next year the Saints will work
on the unglamorous basics: Run, block, catch, stay focused, and