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.