How can a Saints squad that performed as poorly as they did against Atlanta compete with the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night?
How could the New Orleans Saints dominate the New England Patriots yet barely escape with wins against teams with losing records?
I know the official reasons for the Saints’ recent problems with struggling teams: they were road games; the Saints’ secondary is hurting; the Saints’ depth at linebacker is thin; the third moon of Saturn was aligned with Mercury; etc., etc., etc.
Maybe I am demanding too much, though all I want is homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and a 16-0 season, in that order, though I reckon if the Black and Gold achieves the second part then they will have accomplished the first as well. I digress.
Perhaps I should just be happy that the Saints are in unchartered waters for the franchise. After all, they have secured a bye in the first round, will host a divisional playoff game and have won the most games in franchise history. In a row to boot.
However part of me has trouble accepting that a team capable of requiring small miracles to slip past the likes of Saints Louis, Washington and Atlanta minus their starting quarterback and running back will make it to the NFC Championship, let alone the big one. Make that, THE Big One.
Some of the numbers from the Atlanta win aren’t bad. Quarterback Drew Brees completed over 75% of his passes for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns. I am not going to bother delving into the NASA equation needed to calculate his passer rating; on paper he had a good day. The kind of day that will help him in his pursuit of MVP.
Hell even Reggie Bush had a great day as a running back, receiver and, GASP, punt returner..at least compared with his punt return record THIS season.
More about the highlights and lie-heights later.
The Saints need to win two of their next three games for homefield advantage. Beating the Cowboys in a short week, NOTE THE EXACT SAME short week the Cowboys must contend with, even shorter as they played a later game on Sunday and will have to travel, combined with a rolling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers make the season finale a contest for vanity and superlative posterity.
Homefield matters come playoff time; but not nearly as much as playing well on defense.
What I Liked
#9 Not necessary to expound further.
Reggie, Reggie, Reggie They say Bush makes opposing defensive coordinators nervous; I think he makes Saints fans even more so. After his infamous yard-shy scamper last week had Saints fans screaming like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland (how bout that for sports column analogy), there #25 goes showing why he is an asset, even if one not worth $8,000,000. Bush rushed for an average 5 yards per carry but was only given 6 opportunities to do so despite his good fortune against the Falcons. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen head coach Sean Payton be stingy with the hot hand. Bush caught 2 touchdown passes, with his trademark pylon leap on his first and a dandy of a screen pass. Bush also had a 23-yard punt return. Too Bush’s credit, he fumbled the ball though reacted quick enough to recover it, keeping the Saints drive alive.
Vilma! The quarterback of the Saints’ defense led the team with tackles with 7, made a key pick and ended the Falcons’ comeback with a key stop on 4th and 2. His acquisition was General Manager Mickey Loomis’s finest swap.
What I Didn’t Like
Welcome Back to the Neighborhood Coach Payton’s call for a fake field goal was a reckless move that the Saints were fortunate to survive. Even though he missed an extra point earlier, kicker Garrett Hartley could have easily increased the Saints lead to 6 points with little time left in the game. Instead, the bad play resulted in the Falcons getting the ball back and in the more enviable position of only needing a field goal to send the game into overtime. For the most part, Payton has been conservative in his play-calling. This one joins the ranks of that gem he called in the playoff game against Philadelphia that almost cost us a spot in the NFC Championship.
Paging John Carney Hartley’s extra-point miss could have cost his team dearly. One has to wonder if the kicker will be inactive next week, especially as the Saints are playing at the Superdome.
One Punt The part of the game that made me almost sick to my stomach was that the Saints defense only forced the Falcons to punt once. Forget “bend don’t break”; the longer our defense is on the field, the more likely they will get exploited for big plays. The lack of a pass rush is a major deficiency that needs to be remedied if the Saints expect to avoid “one and done” in the post-season. The Saints gave up big passing plays and one near touchdown pass that Atlanta wide receiver Michael Jenkins just missed hauling in for 6. Forcing the Falcons to settle for three field goals is commendable. However, a championship caliber team would be able to make an opposing offense punt the ball away more than once, especially an offense minus their two star players.
Game Ball: linebacker Jonathan Vilma
While it was Brees and Bush who put the points up on the there board, it was Vilma who virtually sewed up the game by himself on defense. Minus the INT and 4th and 2 stop, Saints fans in attendance would have had to endure a chorus of “We Dats” from the locals.