Sunday, December 28, 2008

Saints 2008: Close But No Cigar...Postseason...or Record

The ticket to the game served as the omen of things to come.
Though I am a season ticket holder, I had to pick up one off the streets for the Carolina game as I had traded my Carolina game ticket for an extra Oakland ticket figuring then that the last game would not matter in the grand scheme of things. Never mind for the moment how prescient that thought was back in October.
While walking to the Superdome, I glanced at the ticket and saw the scowling face of one Sean Payton printed on the scalped admittance to a mid-row set in the Terrace level.
Right then and there I had a feeling that the Saints were not going to finish 9-7, and thus giving the competitive NFC South a division in which every team had a winning record, nor would Drew Brees surpass Dan Marino’s record for passing yards.
The team missed out by 2 points from sweeping their division rivals at home. Number 9 would just miss out on making history, and perhaps his best argument for MVP, by a measly 16 yards.
Had the Saints managed to win an additional two games, they’d be in the playoffs as a wild card. And there’s no shortage of coulda, woulda, shoulda losses to pick from as the team lost six of their eight games by five points or less.
Despite a running-back controversy…scratch that…a head coach that has arbitrarily caused a running back controversy by not playing the Crescent City’s most popular “cripple” (please note the thick sarcasm in my reference the proven “handicapable” Deuce McAllister), the Saints’ offense have racked up the most points and yards in the NFL. But even possessing the league’s most prolific offense is a gilded distinction: submerged deep beneath the Saints’ glittering top passing/receiving stats is the team’s 26th ranked rush.
Bad clock management from lack of a reliable running game and the brick walls the team literally ran into on those infamous 3rds and one plagued them throughout the season. And unfortunately the Saints are like the GOP: they just don’t know how to win the close ones.
The Saints would have probably won the Chicago game in over-time had the coin flip went in the black and gold’s favor; but there’s the difference in winning a game and being a winning team.
Even had they did win two more games, the Saints should not have expected to go far in the post-season if their defense is so porous that every game turns into sudden death matches. That was so disturbing in the London win against San Diego: sure the Saints came out at top but it was almost entirely due to their offense’s ability to keep up by scoring repeatedly. Whatever hopes I had of the Saints making the playoffs ended at Wembley Stadium.
As the Denver-San Diego season finale is being played as I write this, the Saints have the 23rd ranked defense in yards allowed and 22nd in sacks. I’ve witnessed the spectacle of the likes of Jeff Garcia resemble Michael Vick against the Saints defense. Opposing quarterbacks have had plenty of time to throw the ball, which has strained and added to the embarrassment of the Saints’ secondary.
Our well-paid defensive ends, when not hurt or under suspension (see 2009 season), are not earning the high salaries they whined about deserving. Will Smith and Charles Grant have combined for a grand total of six sacks, which is free-agent Bobby McCray’s individual total. The team defense is 29th in forced fumbles.
The Saints enter yet another post-season trying to plug up a leaky defense while also having to make a critical decision about the running game: will Deuce McAllister return? Judging by Payton’s sparing use of him, even in situations where McAllister was unquestionably the best player for a particular down, it seems that number Twenty-Six is being eased out.
I had mixed emotions about Brees’s chase of the Marino milestone. Part of me wanted to see a member of the black and gold enter the record books while making the season finale count for something. Yet another part of me was resentful of Brees’s statistical feat, coming at the expense of a neglected running game.
By having an imbalanced offense that could not compensate for a broken defense, the Saints finished the 2008 season with a “balanced” record of 8-8.
That Brees’ had just barely missed making his mark in NFL history was a fitting way to end a disappointing season thanks to Saints letting six games slip through their fingers.
Unless Payton commits to running the ball more and the front office aggressively retools the defense with our lone first day draft pick (thanks to stockpiling in an area that didn’t need it) and free agency, the Who Dat faithful will have to endure yet another year of break-even “Haslett Ball”.

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