Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Previewing the Biggest Game in Saints History

Early Sunday evening, the New Orleans Saints will play the most important game in the franchise's existence

If course, if the Black and Gold are victorious, the biggest game in franchise history will be played in south Florida two weeks later.

Minnesota and New Orleans are polar opposites. One has ice fishing, the other every other kind of fishing imaginable.

One has a rich Scandinavian culture and heritage, the other French, Spanish and West African with significant strains of Irish and Italian mixed in.

There are three things Minnesota and New Orleans share: outsiders both think people in both locales talk funny, though in much different ways; the Mississippi River rolls near both of their football stadiums; and nasty playoff experiences when the two have met, at least from the Saints’ perspective.

While the Atlanta Falcons are the Saints’ biggest rival, there’s no team the Saints have more post-season history than with the Vikings. Yes, even more so than the hated Chicago Bears.

It was the Vikings that faced the Saints in their first ever playoff game. The Black and Gold’s time in their first post-season was brief as the Vikings eliminated them after a 44-10 shellacking in the Superdome.

After winning their first playoff game against the Saint Louis Rams in 2000, the Saints were eliminated in the second (divisional) round by the Vikings in Minneapolis.

Two years later a sloppy two-point conversion by Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper on the second to last play of the game proved to be the death knell for the Saints’ playoff hopes in the 2002 season.

In other words, the Saints have some serious unfinished business with the Vikings.

The Match Up

On paper, the Minnesota Vikings are the better team.

The Vikings have a potent, albeit not on the same level as the Saints’, offense led by the greatest redneck athlete of all time, quarterback Brett Favre. Along with the future Hall of Famer, the Vikings have running back Adrian Peterson, wide receivers Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, and Sidney Rice and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

In regular season play, the Vikings’ offense had the league’s 5th highest yards per game average (379.6) and were second in points scored per game (29.4), behind the Saints. The Vikings had fairly balanced offense, ranking 8th in passing yards (259.8) and 13th in rushing yards (119.9) per game.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings led the NFL with 48 sacks, 13 more than the Saints. The allowed the 10th fewest points per game (19.5) and the 6th fewest yards per game (305.5). The Minnesota defense was better at stopping the run than the pass, giving up the 2nd least rushing yards per game (87.1) but ranked 19th against the pass, surrendering an average of 218.4 yards per game.

The Saints had the most prolific offense in the NFL in points (31.9) and yards (403.8) per game. Like the Vikings, the Saints managed to spread their offense around, ranking 4th in passing (272.2) and 6th (131.6) ground yards per game.

Defensively the Saints did not have the kind of overnight turnaround most fans had hoped for when the organization landed the services of highly coveted “free agent” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. At least concerning reducing yards and points allowed.

The Saints defense was 20th in points allowed (21.3) and 25th in total yards (357.8) per game. The Black and Gold defense were only marginally better at stopping the run, 21st in the league (122.2 yards per game) than they were at containing the pass as they were 26th allowing an average of 235.6 passing yards per game. As previously mentioned, the Vikings defense had over a dozen more sacks than the Saints defense.

Where Williams had his impact and where the Saints defense has excelled is in the turnover game.

The Saints defense snagged 26 picks, 3rd in the league, and forced 15 fumbles with 13 recovered. The Saints defense scored 8 touchdowns from turnovers.

While the Saints defense is not adept at stopping plays, they proved to be among the best at making plays.

In contrast, the Minnesota defense ranked 26th in interceptions with a relatively paltry 11. The Vikings defense had more success forcing fumbles, knocking out 23 from their opponents though they only recovered 13. The Vikings defense only scored a single touchdown.


Darren Sharper (et al.) v. Brett Favre It’ll be a duel between two veterans whose likenesses will one day join those of other greats in Canton one day. The Saints free safety has not been shy about wanting to meet his former team in the NFC Championship game. Will the Saints secondary frustrate the gunslinger and bail out a Saints offense that will likely struggle against the second coming of the Purple People Eaters or will Favre add another chapter in the story of the greatest quarterback in the game.

The Saints O-Line v. PPE2 Members of the Saints offensive line, the most thankless job on the field, have received one of the highest compliments in their profession with three invitations to the 2010 Pro Bowl. Hopefully the honor will be only ceremonial as the selected players will be prepping for a far bigger game the next week. However they will be tested like no other time this season against a fearsome foursome that has wrecked havoc on opposing quarterbacks with a combined 31 sacks. Can Saints quarterback Drew Brees get enough time to burn the Viking secondary or will Brees end up being the one with the pants on the ground and the football in a Minnesota defender’s hands?

Of Interest

Welcome to the Big Time Adrian Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem, who had a breakout season, suffered an ankle injury against the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional playoff game. While Meachem’s absence will be filled by the returning Lance Moore, a favorite target of Brees, concern about the severity of Meachem’s injury led to the cutting of quasi-(and now fully) retired running back Deuce McAllister and the promotion from the practice squad of wide receiver Adrian Arrington.

The Saints traded up in the 2007 draft to pick up the Michigan wide-out who spent his first season on injured reserve and his second season on the practice squad. Saints fans on the blogosphere have been obsessing with Arrington on a level approaching Reggie Bush’s stratospheric expectations, except number 25 has played in a game that wasn’t in preseason. Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson highly touted Arrington’s promise on a sorts radio show, only feeding the frenzy.

That said, Mr. Arrington this is your chance. Whatever you do in the post-season will weigh heavily concerning your future with the Saints organization. Solid play against the Vikings could help compensate for a weak 2010 preseason. On the other hand, dropped passes or fumbles could mean you won’t have that opportunity. Keep in mind that wide receiver Rod Harper, who had a near Pierre Thomas-esque preseason, is going to be hunting for a full time gig after he gets off IR.

Run the Damned Ball! Here’s something of interest: in the Saints three, count them three, playoff wins, they have rushed the ball no less than 29 times. TWENTY-NINE TIMES!

In significant contrast in all SIX of their post-season losses, the Saints have rushed the ball LESS than 23…that’s TWENTY-THREE times. Actually it’s worse than that as TWENTY-TWO was the high-water mark of the losses- against the Falcons when the Black and Gold lost by touchdown. Against the Chicago Bears in 2007, the Saints ran the ball only TWELVE times in a loss after rushing it THIRTY-FOUR times against the Philadelphia Eagles in a win the week before.

Will Shockey Play? The tight-end’s presence in the Dallas game was sorely missed. If Jeremy Shockey, who did not practice on Wednesday, is unable or limited against the Vikings on Sunday, Brees will have a tough evening.

The Oddsmaker’s Take and the Blogger’s

Danny Sheridan of USA Today has the Saints as a 3.5 favorite, not bad considering the Saints’ playoff history with the Vikings and the Minnesota’s stout defense.

As I said earlier, I do think the Vikings are a more complete team. They have a comparable offense and a vastly superior pass rush.

But the Saints have a few intangible advantages.

One, for the first time, the Black and Gold will be playing in their first NFC Championship game in the Superdome. Four years ago, the Saints went to Soldier Field to take on a team that I did not think was better than them. And to this day, I believe the 2006 Saints were better than the 2006 Chicago Bears; the difference was the Bears PLAYED better.

Having the crowd at the Bears’ back and in the Saints offense’s ears had an impact.

Secondly, there’s maturity. Most the Saints players on the roster have been there already. The Saints were unprepared for the weather and field conditions in their last NFC Championship appearance. Then and now, I blame Coach Sean Payton for not doing a better job breaking in his team. The cold took its toll in dropped passes and four fumbles.

Another problem with the 2007-2008 Payton game plan was an over reliance on the pass. Last season’s road game at Tampa Bay was I believe a turning point, or as President Barack Obama would call it, a teachable moment.

This season we have seen the benefits of investing in a ground game. Payton then had all of the tools he has now, as Thomas, Bush, Mike Bell and Lynell Hamilton were on the roster or practice squad. Payton just opted not to use them.

Another area where the Saints have grown up is resiliency. The Miami and Washington contests were equally frustrating as they were inspiring. They played four quarters and found ways to win. They made their own breaks and put themselves in position to take advantage of the other team’s bad luck.

And it should be said that Bush has found his groove playing the role of a cameo superstar that bedevils opposing defenses as a player and as a decoy.

In summation, this Saints squad, from coaches to players, is a far better team than the one that was previously a mere game away from Bobby Hebert having to wear a dress.

Better might not be the best way to describe this team. Best ever is more fitting.

Finally there is that one thing the Saints have that no other team seems to: mojo.

You can also call it magic, soul, gris-gris luck or just being blessed. They’ve got something going you can’t teach or coach.

The Saints secondary has played like special forces, Brees has been as accurate as any conventional weapon stockpiled by the Pentagon and the o-line would have made Leonidas and his resolute Spartans proud.

To borrow a line from Denny Green, I’m not going to crown ‘em. The Super Bowl is another matter altogether. But I do think this team will play in the big game and that’s progress.

The most climactic moment in Saints history was not the reopening of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. That was a rebirth of a team, a stadium and a community.

No, the apogee of excitement for the Saints happened under the watch of a coach I don’t hold in very high regard, Jim Haslett.

Bono nor Green Day have nothing on Jim Henderson, the voice of the Saints, when he screamed “Hakim dropped the ball! Hakim dropped the ball!”. That is the highpoint in the soul of a true Saints fan that witnessed it.

It didn’t matter that the Vikings easily dispatched the Saints the next weekend in the divisional round. That Saints team was so riddled with injuries that it was held together with chewing gum and duct-tape. They weren’t going to the Super Bowl and every objective Saints fan, the few of us out there, knew it. But that didn’t matter.

That moment told us we weren’t cursed, as the Pat Robertson of football analysts might have hypothesized with much more credibility before that game.

With all that said, and I realize I am now going on like US Senator Scott Brown, I believe the Saint will beat the Minnesota Vikings this weekend with the margin being determined by the level of involvement by number 88 in the game.

So if Shockey plays, give the points; if Shockey looks to be limited, take them.

Either way I believe the Saints will return to the scene of their mid-season miracle hoping to experience a second.

Who Dat!

And Now For Something Completely Different: A Liberal's Take on the Scott Brown Victory

Note: The following was written by Bill Phillips, a Democratic political consultant in Washington State. Mr. Phillips is a graduate of Louisiana State University and a former officer in the LSU College Democrats. His views DO NOT in ANY way reflect those of the proprietor of this blog.

The Hangover

Champagne flowed freely in GOP circles as Scott Brown, largely unknown just weeks ago, became the newest United States Senator from Massachusetts, replacing liberal icon Ted Kennedy. That Kennedy made health care his life's work and Brown won after vowing to kill the Democratic reform plan only made conservatives' bubbly tickle their noses more pleasantly. But does policy even matter this year?

Make no mistake; the GOP has had some cause to celebrate lately. Gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey, followed by what was considered unthinkable in Massachusetts as recently as New Years Day, have pumped the elephants full of confidence as a national mood of incumbent distrust, in place since 2006, shows no sign of abating until the economy gets back on track and jobs return.

The Dow has surged back over 10,000 even as unemployment rises. Americans see the wealthy getting richer while their own fortunes decline, and righteous anger continues to sear the political landscape. This creates dangerous times for the party in power, leading to celebration and talk of a comeback for Republicans – even though Republican policies of unregulated corporate excess were largely responsible for the downturn. Fair? Of course not, but no one said politics plays by rules of fairness. President Obama can attest to that, as his personal favorable rating remains very high even though his party is getting waylaid at the polls.

Republicans have successfully campaigned against incumbents since the 2008 Obama win, culminating in the first GOP Senator from Massachusetts in over 30 years – albeit one who is pro-choice and considered even more liberal than his Democratic opponent in some circles. Is this truly the sign of a resurgent Republican party, or do Republican gains simply continue an anti-incumbent mood in place since 2006, when voters cleaned House and provided Democrats a solid Senate majority?

Until we see incumbent Republicans in swing states re-elected by large margins, or Republican-held seats withstanding strong Democratic challenges, we have no real way of knowing. This hasn't stopped mainstream media from breathlessly reporting on the imminent demise of donkeys everywhere, but the inarguable reality is Republican incumbents have had little or nothing on the line in recent elections. GOP losses would have been somewhat expected, while victories were considered stunning. An anti-incumbent mood this November could easily sweep out as many Republicans as Democrats under current circumstances.

Republicans have not established a consistent national 'brand'. Not surprising, since the RNC would be hard-pressed to explain concisely what it stands for aside from more tax cuts and less regulation, the very ingredients that spawned our current economic crisis. The right is ideologically schizophrenic, fearing a big-government 'nanny state' while simultaneously waging obnoxious morality crusades against gay rights and reproductive freedom. Tea Party protesters carry signs excoriating the TARP bailouts, which were bipartisan in nature and begun under George W. Bush. These are the kinds of inconsistencies Scott Brown skillfully avoided, claiming only to be an outsider who would bring his brand of common sense and change to Washington. Sound familiar?

The problem with this strategy, as Democrats have learned over the past year, is that you're no longer an outsider once hired to be on the inside. Whatever you're trying to fix becomes your problem almost from the minute you take office. Republicans who see 2010 as the beginning of the end of the Democratic Party may well reap the ire of an anti-incumbent yet Obama-approving electorate in 2012 which, incidentally, is when Scott Brown must face voters again, presumably without an inept opponent to help his chances.

Bill Phillips is currently Chair of the Snohomish County Democrats in the state of Washington. He is Director and Senior Consultant for Sound Strategies, a not-for-profit political consulting firm specializing in local races. He attended Louisiana State University and has been a Democratic activist since 1988.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Defeat of Democratic Arrogance

Perhaps Democrat Martha Coakley should have played “The World Turned Upside Down” at the “concession” party.

Only a few weeks ago, not many people outside of Scott Brown saw much opportunity for a Republican victory for the senate seat that had been occupied by Ted Kennedy beginning in November 1962 until his death last year.

But on the 364th day of Barack Obama’s presidency, the voters of Massachusetts made history and dealt a stunning blow to the White House by electing a Republican to the US Senate in the biggest political upset in decades.

What drove the electorate of a state that had gone to Obama by a margin of 62% to 36% to embrace a Republican who made no secret of his determination to stand athwart of the Obama agenda as Senator 41?

Let’s start with the candidates: Brown was as exceptional of Republican nominee as Coakley was an inept candidate.

While Brown came off as anything but a typical Republican stuffed shirt, the Democratic attorney general did not hide for disdain for retail campaigning.

Coakley undoubtedly lost a number of hockey fans and came off as a snob for mocking her opponent’s pressing the flesh outside of the Winter Classic, the NHL’s traveling annual outdoor hockey match that has become a major hit with the sports fans and just so happened to be held this year in Boston.

“As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?”, remarked Coakley when asked whether she was working hard enough while referencing her Republican opponent’s willingness to engage in such pedestrian politicking.

Then there was incident where a Coakley supporter right in front of the candidate shoved a conservative reporter down to the ground.

There were plenty other gaffes made by Coakley and her campaign that the Obama political team will not so discreetly put out on the street to distance their folks from the historic defeat.

But even if Obama operatives were not guilty of running a poor campaign, the policy cornerstone of his presidency proved to be a millstone around Coakley’s neck as the voters of Massachusetts rejected ObamaCare in policy and process.

How can I say this? Because the Democrats tried to make the election a referendum on health care.

The health care plan’s devilish details and the manner by which it had been bulldozed through Congress while the president and his allies disingenuously proclaimed that the process has been transparent was insulting to the public.

Voters in Massachusetts aren’t conservative in their voting tendencies, but they’re not fools and even a silver tongued orator can’t persuade most people that 2+2=5.

This was also a rejection by blue state voters of the blatant nine-figure “incentives” dangled in front of US Senators from “purple states” in order for the Democrats in the US Senate to corral the votes needed to pass ObamaCare.

Finally, this was a rejection of the machine politics that led to the manipulation of Massachusetts election law to conform the conveniences of the national Democratic Party.

Back in 2004, the Democrats in the state legislature changed the rules on senatorial succession when there was concern that Republican Governor Mitt Romney could be in position to appoint a fellow Republican to replace “president-elect” John Kerry in Congress’ upper chamber.

After Ted Kennedy’s death, the Democratic-controlled state legislature once again changed the rules, this time to accomodate the passage of President Barack Obama’s agenda.

Ironically and justly, the law of unintended consequences kicked in and those who custom-built laws to based upon party and not governing principle got precisely what they deserved: plenty of egg on their face and a Republican US Senator.

Adding additional fuel to the fire were the words of Democrats so blinded with self-righteousness and partisan obsession, that one had to think they were ranting in a vacuum.

MSNBC personality Ed Schultz proclaimed on his radio show that if he lived in Massachusetts he’d vote ten times and would cheat “to keep the bastards out”.

Then there was talk of Massachusetts officials making a point of dragging out Brown’s certification as the winner, thus providing gubernatorial appointee Paul Kirk more time in office to rubber-stamp Democratic legislation.

Democrats elected to Congress have been seated expeditiously before all of their paperwork was in order as recently in the upstate New York congressional race where the Democratic victor had a far narrower margin than Brown and any delay in swearing in Brown could further taint an Obama agenda that has already been setting off Geiger counters with its political radioactivity.

And then there was the line that defined what the race was really about: whose Senate seat was it? Did it belong to the public or was it an heirloom of a state political icon to be willed down to any given Democrat?

On Tuesday night, the people reclaimed their property.

The significance of this election regarding the Obama agenda cannot be overstated for this reason: if a Democratic US Senate candidate isn’t safe in Massachusetts, then where exactly are they safe?

With her campaign for US Senator ended, Ms. Coakley will probably sleep well tonight. California US Senator Barbara Boxer probably won’t have as restful of a slumber.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Saints Playoffs Week One- The Reggie Bush Show

The New Orleans Saints offense kept the ball on the ground; their defense kept it out of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s hands; and between the both of them, the team has kept the road to the Super Bowl going through Bourbon Street.

Head coach Sean Peyton won his second playoff game in four seasons and will bring his team to its second ever NFC Championship game, though this one in the far friendlier confines of the Louisiana Superdome.

There’s no questioning the significance of the first round playoff bye. The Saints’ struggles are largely because of the injury toll they racked up while pulling rabbits out of their helmets towards the end of their 13 game winning streak and during their 3 game losing streak. The two weeks off, courtesy of the meaningless Week 17 game and the bye, gave key players (tight end Jeremy Shockey, wide receiver Lance Moore, running back Pierre Thomas, etc.) badly needed time to heal.

The Saints squad that took the turf on Saturday afternoon was the most complete since the Miami Dolphins game way back in Week Seven. The Saints weren’t rusty; they were healthy and they played like the same team that handily defeated the Philadelphia Eagles and all three Empire State teams.

Though the Saints played excellent ball all around, from passing to punting to running, one player in particular truly stole the show.

What I Liked

No Keeping Up with Reggie Number 25 reminded everyone that his name is Bush, not bust. The resident celebri-thete shined on the post-season stage with an 83 yard punt return for a touchdown, a 46 yard run to the end zone and another 36 yards in his four other rushing attempts for an average of 16 yards (!) per carry. Bush proved that he is a play maker, a game changer and worth his 2nd overall pick. One could say that Bush played as if he was auditioning, but that’s for a post-season column.

First Rate Secondary The Saints fielded their first-string secondary for the first time since mid-season and their presence was felt by Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and his talented receiver squad. Warner passed for just over 200 yards and had no touchdowns. Officially, Warner was picked off only once by Saints defensive end Will Smith though free safety Darren Sharper snatched a pass that was later throw out because of a roughing the passer penalty. Cornerback Randall Gay came up big stripping the ball from wide receiver Jerheme Urban. Sharper recovered the ball and the offense converted the turnover into six points on a Brees to Shockey 17 yard touchdown pass.

Prior to the strip, the Warner to Urban pass was for 28 yards, his longest “completion” of the game. It was that kind of day for Warner.

Drew Dat! Saints quarterback Drew Brees had his standard outstanding performance, throwing three touchdowns, completing 23 of 32 passes (72%) for 247 yards and no interceptions. To say Brees was dearly missed in the Carolina throw-away game two weeks ago would be a gross understatement; that the Saints would not be in the playoffs without him is undeniable.

What Me Hurt? While I didn’t hold my breath every time he carried the ball, I’ll admit that I made a point of straining my eyes looking for blood on the field whenever running back Pierre Thomas got tackled. After suffering broken ribs against Tampa Bay three weeks ago, number 23 showed his durability running for 52 yards on 13 carries.

Props for the Junior Member of the Running Committee Big running back Lynell Hamilton was properly utilized getting into the end zone on a one yard run. Though he’s the fourth running back, Hamilton has the size and the power to pound the ball through on short yardage plays against a stacked defensive line.

And last but not least…


Perhaps one of the best ways the front office could light a fire under the fans after four weeks removed from the team’s last win, the signing of Saints running back Deuce McAllister, the most popular player to ever don a helmet with a fleur-de-lis, created instant enthusiasm and celebration.

Though more than a few people were disappointed as it became clear that Deuce’s role on the roster would be ceremonial and not as a truly active player, the beloved running back got the Black and Gold excited and noisy, much to the consternation of the Arizona offense. As the Saints organization has pulled their fair share of boners, including cutting popular fullback Mike Karney on the eve of his wedding, placing McAllister on the active roster and on the sidelines shows an increasing sensitivity to some of the most loyal fans in the league.

ZERO That being the number of sacks the Saints’ offensive line gave up to an Arizona defense that ranked 6th in the regular season.

What I Didn’t Like

The Obligatory Big Yard Rushing Score A 2009 New Orleans Saints tradition I could really do without. The Saints defense gave up a 70 yard touchdown run by running back Tim Hightower on the Cardinals’ first offensive play of the game. The early big run is so common that many Saints fans were nonplussed by a similar play that marked the beginning of the end of the New England Patriots’ post-season.

Disrespect for Kurt Warner Had I been wearing a hat on Saturday evening, I would have removed it out of respect when Warner left the field.

The Arizona Cardinals quarterback should be in the Hall of Fame for a number of reasons: his rise from bagging groceries to Super Bowl MVP, his perseverance as a star player and his universally recognized class and character working with developmentally challenged people and the Special Olympics.

That said, when Warner took a stiff hit from Saints defensive end Bobby McCray after an interception and temporarily left the game in the first half, some Saints fans decided to taunt the legendary passer as he ambled to the locker room.

Cognizant that this could have been Warner’s final football game, I reprimanded a Saints fan wearing mock religious attire (I reckon his “Breesus” shirt was in the wash) that was hurling insults at number 13.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Brief Saints-CardinalsPlayoff Preview

Though the game means so much to the orgnization, this preview is going to be short and to the point.

The Saints will be fielding their most complete team since the Miami game. Most of their starters will see action with defensive end Charles Grant being conspicuous by his absence on IR.

The most important returnees are the Saints corners. Arizona is a passing team and the redbirds have the best wide-out tandem in the NFL. Hopefully the refs will do a much better job calling out Larry Fitzgerald for his shoves than they did last weekend.

This will be the first match-up between the two teams in post-season and there is relatively little history between the franchises, with the most recent being the Saints' inability to land the opportunity to score running back Beanie Wells in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Running back Pierre Thomas is nursing a serious injury (broken ribs) and can't expect to be at his best. However this could be the perfect opportunity for running back Reggie Bush to shine at the highest level.

Three things:

1) Does Saints quarterback Drew Brees torment Arizona defensive back Michael Adams the way opposing teams used to pick on undersized Saints db Jason David?

2) Can the Saints get yards and first downs,and thus control of the game clock, on the ground?

3) Will the Saints' secondary distinguish themselves as the big-play squad that help the Black and Gold dominate the early part of the season?

The aforementioned matters more than how the Saints finished the season. The team is well-rested and largely healed up after a rough end to the regular season.

Oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 7 point favorite. I think the Saints are going to win but it could come down to a field goal, (insert deity)-forbid.

Take the points...worst case scenario, the Saints win the game and host an NFC championship game for the first time in the Superdome.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

News That Made Me Mad As Hell

Sunday’s Times Picayune contained an article that had my blood boiling.

It was outrageous and proof that a certain body of “experts” lack all objectivity and possess an obtuse mindset.

The collective action by this group was inexplicable and ought to cause their credibility as leaders in their field to be questioned.

Of course, I’m referring to the article heralding that Saints quarterback Drew Brees was denied the Associated Press’ NFL MVP award.

Oh wait…you thought I was going off about the decision by the Louisiana Republican Party to issue a fatwa against a group of young professionals in the New Orleans area.

While that certainly has been a great point of annoyance, I’ll get around to addressing that issue later. Besides, it’s not like the state GOP putting a blunderbuss up to its head and pulling the trigger should be considered newsworthy.

Back to a subject the public actually cares about.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Brees came in second, though not because he was the second best performer on the professional gridiron this season. No, it’s because I am convinced the people who make decisions concerning individual pro-football accolades have posters of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady plastered across their bedroom walls.

Why do I make this accusation?

Consider the following. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning claimed his FOURTH MVP award by a landslide 39.5 votes, or 79% of the total votes cast. His nearest rival was Brees, who garnered a paltry 7.5 votes.

Wowzers! Yes that’s a lot of sportswriters in the tank for Peyton.

Judging by that disparity you’d think the scion of former Saints great Archie Manning would have had a much better season than the man who is THE greatest Saints quarterback.


The basic numbers for Manning are as follows: passed for 4500 yards, 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Brees’s in the aforementioned categories are 4,388 yards in passing, 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

A virtual draw…except Brees’s are better in two out of the three, marginally concerning touchdowns, significantly regarding INTs. If one were to apply general fantasy football scoring to these three sets of numbers, Brees would have more points.

But what about the other numbers?

Brees, not one to be compared to the likes of Michael Vick on ANY level, rushed for 33 yards and scored 2 touchdowns on the ground; Manning didn’t run ANY touchdowns into the endzone and rushed for a negative integer, -17.

Sacks and ball handling is the one area where Peyton had significantly better stats than Brees. Peyton was sacked only 10 times and didn’t turnover a single fumble to the opposition in contrast to Brees’s 20 sacks and having coughed up the ball 6 times. But interceptions, not fumbles, tend to be the negative stat most people weight when judging quarterbacks.

However there are two sets of numbers where Brees clearly outclassed Peyton: completion percentage and passing average. Peyton completed 68.8% of his passes while the Saints qb completed 70.6% of his passes.

Though the difference between the two’s pass/completion average is seemingly miniscule, it was Brees’s average that broke the season record of 70.5% set by Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson in 1982. It should be kept in mind that Brees flirted with breaking Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino’s passing yards record last year, breaking 5,000 yard but coming up just a bit short of besting the Hall of Famer’s benchmark.

Though Peyton passed for 112 more yards than Brees, the Saints quarterback had 57 fewer attempts, which is not a bad thing since the Saints’ commitment to the run in 2009 season played no small role in racking up a record 13 (straight) wins.

Both players are clearly indispensable to their teams. As Times Picayune sportswriter Jeff Duncan observed, one only had to watch the Saints finale at Carolina to see what the Saints would look like sans Brees. It’s not a pretty picture.

A frequent complaint by Saints fans that does not involve Charles Grant is the lack of respect the team receives from the national media.

The AP’s overwhelming adulation for Peyton and relatively little support for Brees rightfully reinforces this belief and helped make the chip in the shoulders of Saints fans that much deeper.

It’s not that Peyton wasn’t a deserving recipient; it was that Brees was more deserving.

The Other Screw-Job
As if it were an omen of the MVP farce, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was selected NFL Comeback Player of the Year. New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove received one vote for this award.

While Brady posted strong numbers after missing out almost all of last season with a knee injury, I would hardly consider Brady’s story as true “comeback” material as he only had one real hiccup in what has been a magnificent career.

Perhaps I am more sympathetic to Hargrove for parochial and personal reasons.

As an unapologetic Saints fan, I am prone to show favoritism, unlike those totally unbiased MVP voters- right?, but I also have respect from where Hargrove came back from.

Hargrove’s playing career was endangered not by an injury sustained on the field but because of substance abuse. His personal story is sad and tragic, though inspiring in a gritty sense as people who have walked as far down the road Hargrove had generally don’t walk back.

Hargrove has made a great deal of progress turning his life around, even offering a heartfelt apology for his behavior to the fans of the previous teams he played for. As the relatively obscure Hargrove didn’t have media monitoring his every move, unlike a certain other player that landed in big trouble, so his public contrition is that much more remarkable.

Number sixty-nine could have quietly tried to blend in, not attract attention to himself and cash his checks, but he didn’t. Hargrove has had a good year stepping in after injuries took down the Saints’ starting defensive tackle.

Brady spent the past season repairing an injured knee with his supermodel wife and a pile of money. Hargrove, by contrast, was fighting for the opportunity to make the league minimum and healing his soul.

It’s regrettable that the fanboy sportswriters don’t have a greater appreciation of the differences between the two players’ comebacks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Week 17: The Flat Finale

The New Orleans Saints treated their Week 17 game as if it was a Week 4 preseason contest.

Quarterback Drew Brees and a host of other starters, with defensive end Charles Grant now being a now notable exception, sat out the game virtually assuring the Saints a loss.

Aside from gaining a greater appreciation of punter Thomas Morstead and becoming cognizant that Mark Brunell is the highest paid ball-holder in the NFL (surely this guy isn’t being paid millions to play quarterback?), the game, which three weeks ago could have been an important milestone in the Saints’ drive for perfection devolved into a throwaway contest that cost the team one of its starting defensive ends and possibly our kick returner thanks to the Chicago Bears locking up the first seed for the Saints the week before.

The best that could be said about the effort by the Saints’ b-string defense is they forced the Carolina Panthers to punt eight times, which is a considerable improvement form the three times they forced Tampa Bay to punt and Washington and Atlanta once.

And while the Grant getting sidelined is a major blow to the Saints going into the playoffs, it’s not of the same level as say the New England Patriots’ loss of wide receiver Wes Welker. Considering Grant’s inconsistent play, his replacement in the lineup by defensive ends Bobby McCray, Jeff Charleston and the newly resigned Paul Spicer should cause that great of a drop-off.

At the start of the season, I rather optimistically projected the team to finish 11-5. One Redskins fan, whose name I won’t post as he’s suffered enough already, sarcastically encouraged me to “keep on believing”.

And though fans would be a lot more excited had the Saints dropped their first three and went on to win their next thirteen instead of the other way around, there is one little fact I would like to point out: the Black and Gold’s two playoff wins came after losing their regular season finale- the most recent being against none other than the Panthers.

The value of the bye and homefield advantage cannot be overstated: the Saints hope to field their first almost fully healed starting line-up for the first time in months and it’s always to have control of the crowd noise.

The Saints have a 3-1 record against the teams that have made the playoffs. The Black and Gold have proven that they can beat the best.
And here is what really matters: the Saints are only two “any given Sundays” away from the Super Bowl.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Matthew Lesko Pick of the Week: Take the Points

Perusing oddsmaker Danny Sheridan's numbers for the week, one comes upon what could be the closest thing to free money out there: the New Orleans Saints are a Two Point FAVORITE over the Carolina Panthers. That's right, the same Saints team that could not finish off the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers AND the same Panthers team that crushed both the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings. Actually, that's not totally accurate, it won't be the same Saints team since quarterback Drew Brees is not expected to play much and long-in-the-tooth back up Mark Brunell is going to start. Also a number of Saints starters have been declared out, including running back Pierre Thomas and wide receiver Lance "Put him on IR already" Moore. I'd almost be more disappointed if the Panthers did not cover the spread than I was when the Saints lost to the Bucs. Mortgage your home (or homes if you're Cindy McCain) and hit a sportsbook for this Matthew Lesko "Free Money" Play of the Week.