New Orleans Saints look ahead while wrapping up regular season in loss to Carolina Panthers
Brian Allee-Walsh - So how worried should Who Dat Nation be? It all depends on which New Orleans Saints team shows up to play in the Second Season – the team that chased NFL history for more than three months or the one that chased its tail during the final three weeks of the First Season.
We’ll find out in two weeks when the 13-3 Black and Gold play host to an NFC divisional game at the Superdome against either Arizona, Green Bay or Philadelphia.
Meantime, let’s put a wrap on the regular season, which came to a dreary conclusion Sunday in chilly downtown Charlotte, N.C., with MVP-candidate QB Drew Brees and a passel of other starters watching from the Saints sideline as the Carolina Panthers carved out a 23-10 victory at half-empty Bank of America Stadium.
Brees defended head coach Sean Payton’s decision to rest him, saying: “Would I have loved it if we came out here and scored 41 today? I mean, yeah. But is it worth the risk?"
Backup QB Mark Brunell, 39, looked rusty in his first start in more than three years, completing 15 of 29 passes (52 percent) for 102 yards and one interception for a 45.5 passer rating. The offense never found its groove under Brunell, converting two of 13 first downs (15 percent success rate) and compiling 213 yards on 61 plays from scrimmage (3.5 YPP).
The Panthers also won the turnover battle, forcing three and committing none.
All in all, the best thing Payton can say about the game is his team appears to have emerged without any serious injuries, although kick returner Courtney Roby (head), CB Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), DE Bobby McCray (back) and LDE Charles Grant (elbow) were forced to leave the game.
Their status will be updated Monday.
“It wasn’t the cleanest game,’’ observed Payton, perhaps, stating the obvious. “Our focus quickly now shifts to our game in two weeks.’’
The sooner, the better.
Don’t give too much credence to the outcome or delve too deeply inside the final statistics. Just know the Panthers (8-8) played to win and the Saints played out the string in a meaningless Week 17 game for them, knowing they ultimately will be judged by how they perform in the postseason.
Know, too, that my game ball goes to Saints P Thomas Morstead (a net average of 42.3 yards on nine punts, 7 downed inside the 20) because without him it could have been a lot worse. Except for a handful of players (RB Lynell Hamilton accounted for 86 yards and one touchdown on 13 touches), the team’s overall performance was less than awe-inspiring.
Also know this: No team in NFL history has ever reached the Super Bowl after losing its last three games of the regular season. Counting Sunday’s exhibition-style loss to Carolina, the Saints now have lost three straight games after starting 13-0.
It’s the previous two losses at home that are most disconcerting, games in which the Saints played their best players and had everything to play for against the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and failed to get it done.
The task seems daunting, doesn’t it? Here we have a Saints team that rattled off a franchise-best 13 consecutive wins to open the season and now it appears winning three in a row might be too much to ask.
Then again, the Saints are in an enviable position, owning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If they can defend their home turf twice, they will be playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7 at Dolphins Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
“It’s full speed ahead, all hands on deck,’’ Saints SLB Scott Fujita said. “It’s still out there, right in front of us.’’
One positive coming out of Charlotte was the play of starting LCB Jabari Greer, who saw his first game action since suffering a sports hernia injury against these same Panthers on Nov. 8 at the Superdome. He played “17 or 18 snaps,’’ according to Payton, and appeared to be no worse for the wear. He was credited with six tackles.
It is the first time in nearly two months that Greer and starting RCB Tracy Porter have been on the field together. They need to be healthy and playing well for this team to go deep into the playoffs.
Several other things also have to occur if the ’09 Saints are to win SB XLIV:
Unless the Saints can rediscover their mojo in the next two weeks and get some key players healthy, most notably TE Jeremy Shockey (toe), RB Pierre Thomas (ribs), WR Lance Moore (ankle), Ellis (knee) and Shanle (concussion), among others, it could be abrupt ending to an historic season.
"The key now is to get ourselves mentally and physically refreshed and ready." Payton said.
Re: New Orleans Saints look ahead while wrapping up regular season in loss to Carolina Panthers
Oh sure. The Panthers aren't in trouble because they were missing Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams.
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