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Saints Limp Toward Season Finale

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; By all accounts, it has been a special season for the New Orleans Saints. Never before has the team won 13 games in a season. No Saints team in 43 years came close to starting 13-0. The team is just ...

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Old 12-28-2009, 12:49 PM   #1
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By all accounts, it has been a special season for the New Orleans Saints. Never before has the team won 13 games in a season. No Saints team in 43 years came close to starting 13-0. The team is just the 12th team in league history to score 500 points in a single season, the most in franchise history and tops in the NFL this season. The defense has led the league in forcing turnovers most of the season.

Still, there is trepidation from fans, players and likely coaches heading toward the postseason as the Saints limp to the finish line in the regular season. While the team clearly peaked with their 38-17 Monday night victory against New England on November 30, there is still a chance that the Saints can regain their brilliant early to mid season form.
That will not happen unless the Saints get healthy. Along the way, the Black and Gold became the black and blue, enduring as many injuries as any team in the NFL.

Without a doubt, the injuries caught up with New Orleans. While the injuries were not the only reason for the team's late season slump and while no one will accept excuses, the injuries are certainly a substantive, contributing factor to the huge drop off in performance.

The Saints were plain lucky to win in overtime (33-30) at Washington on December 10. They were fortunate to escape Atlanta with a 26-23 win on December 13. They could not get away with a sub par performance against Dallas on December 19, losing for the first time (24-17).

While the loss to Dallas was hard to swallow, it was acceptable, given the talent level of the then underachieving Cowboys and their need to win for playoff purposes. The Saints made a spirited comeback and had the ball with a chance to tie at game's end.

Conversely, the loss to lowly Tampa Bay is still lodged in the throat, unacceptable, as in choking. When you are at home, lead a 2-12 football team 17-0 and lose as a 14-point favorite, there is no other way to couch it. The Saints choked away the game.

The loss conjured up the memory of the 2002 season when the Saints, with a playoff berth at stake, lost to a 1-13 Bengals team 20-13 to fall to 9-6. The Saints then lost to Carolina at home 10-6 to finish 9-7.

Of course, that was largely due to a lousy decision by Jim Haslett to play an obviously injured, ineffective Aaron Brooks over the season's final four games, all losses, rather than play a healthy though unproven Jake Delhomme when one win would have gotten the Saints into the playoffs. By the way, that loss to the Bengals was in Cincinnati. The loss and the poor decision by Haslett was the beginning of the end for him in New Orleans. He and his team never recovered over the next three seasons.

Against the Buccaneers, the Saints' offense stopped being offensive. The defense was downright offensive, allowing 439 yards to a poor Tampa Bay offense. The special teams were dismal. With 2:25 left in the game, the Saints punt return coverage team allowed Michael Spurlock to return a Thomas Morstead punt 77 yards for a score, virtually untouched, to tie the game 17-17.

The offense still had time to win it. Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and Robert Meachem made plays to place them in position to do so.Then came the costly miss of a 37-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley. He didn't just miss it, he missed it badly, pulling it well left.

Now we understand why Sean Payton held on to John Carney so long. These are the kind of kicks that you want a proven veteran kicking though Carney had struggled while active. This is not a second-guess. In advocating retaining Carney, that's what I had been saying all season long.

In defense of Hartley, it was only his second miss as a Saint. The other was a virtually impossible 58-yard attempt at Washington. If he can shake the bad miss off, he should have a nice future in the NFL, hopefully in New Orleans. He did convert the game-winner at Washington.

Saints owner Tom Benson thought the kick was good. He was captured celebrating what he thought was a victory immediately following the kick. It was wishful thinking. It wasn't even close.

The Saints were shutout after Hartley made it 17-0 with 6:39 remaining in the first half. They were outscored 17-0 in the second half and in overtime. To put the loss in perspective, no NFL team in league history has ever had 13 wins and lost to a team with two wins or less. None. Never. Not anymore.

It figures that Tampa Bay would figure in perhaps the worst and most embarrassing loss in Saints' franchise history. Back in 1977, the woeful Buccaneers got their first-ever win in the young franchise's history, embarrassing the Saints 33-14 at the Superdome. Of course, that came against a bad Saints team, one that finished 3-11.

The 2009 Buccaneers are a bad team. Bad. They came in 30th in the league against the run and 25th in total defense. They were 29th in the league in total offense, playing with a rookie quarterback. They had lost to the Saints 38-7 at Tampa on November 22.

The woeful Bucs looked wonderful against the Saints' soft defensive front, rushing for a season-high 176 yards, their highest total of 2009. They were seven of 12 on third-down conversions. The Saints defense could not get off the field.

The Tampa Bay defense played their two-deep scheme all day long, forcing the Saints to go underneath and bleed them to death. Drew Brees actually completed 32 of 37 passes, 86 percent--and lost. On one rare occasion when they did not play the scheme, Brees hit Meachem on a 30-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to make it 14-0.

This year's New Orleans Saints are not a bad team. They are simply a good team playing bad at the worst possible time, near the finish line. In defense of the Saints, the injuries have become menacing.

While Sedrick Ellis returned against Tampa Bay, Scott Shanle was out with a concussion. Kendrick Clancy is out for the year. Jabari Greer missed another game. So did Randall Gay. Scott Fujita has missed significant time and is not 100 percent. Coach Payton said on NFL Radio Monday morning that Greer, Shanle and Shockey would all return to play at Carolina Sunday.
On offense, Pierre Thomas was injured in the first half and did not return. He had sparked the running game with six carries for 60 yards. Without Thomas, Mike Bell and Lynell Hamilton averaged just three yards per carry, combining for 14 carries for 41 yards. Jeremy Shockey remained out with a turf toe. Heath Evans is out for the year.

That is a wealth of talent inactive. Fortunately, the Saints will have a week off before starting the playoffs to perhaps get healthy. Can they recapture the magic?

As we have seen over the past two weeks, 17 point outputs simply will not get it done for the Saints. If the offense can return to scoring 30 or more points, the Saints can win against anyone. They may have to.

Even healthy, the Saints defense is shaky against the run. They simply aren't very big or physical at the point of attack. In the deep, if Jabari Greer can return to the form he played at in the first half of the season, the secondary will improve vastly. Getting Gay back as the nickel back will certainly help.

In their current state, they are not good enough. Rookie Malcolm Jenkins is struggling to cover anyone--wide receivers or tight ends, at this youthful stage of his career.

Losing games near the end of a season is never a good sign but it can be overcome. Losing to a bad team at home with so much at stake is a red flag. Here is hoping that it leaves the Saints seeing red.

Perhaps a big effort at Carolina and a victory on the final week of the season will be the perfect medicine to cure the suddenly ailing patient. That would certainly give the Saints huge momentum heading into the postseason. The Panthers are playing as well as anyone in the NFL, following convincing wins over Minnesota and the Giants. A victory at Carolina would no doubt restore confidence.

A loss in Charlotte would cast huge doubt upon a franchise that just a couple of weeks ago was basking in the glow of perfection and visions of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy high into the air of suburban Miami in February.

Can it be done? Without a doubt. If you are in the playoffs, you have a chance. The memory of the bumbling Arizona Cardinals of last season comes to mind. The Cardinals limped into the playoffs after getting crushed by the Vikings 35-14 and by the Patriots 47-7 in their 14th and 15th games of the regular season. They rebounded to come within less than a minute of winning the Super Bowl.

The Saints have been wearing "Finish Strong" T-shirts all season long. While they can still finish strong, they are doing anything but at this important stage of the season. Unfortunately, the collective confidence of a community has suddenly been shaken by shaky late season performances of a team that has limped toward the finish line, both literally and figuratively.

Linkback: New Orleans Saints limp toward regular season finish line

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Old 12-28-2009, 12:54 PM   #2
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Re: Saints Limp Toward Season Finale

That's really what it all boils down to again this year...

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Old 12-28-2009, 02:02 PM   #3
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Re: Saints Limp Toward Season Finale

Make 37 yard field goals indoors!
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Old 12-28-2009, 02:07 PM   #4
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Re: Saints Limp Toward Season Finale

Originally Posted by Papa Voodoo View Post
Make 37 yard field goals indoors!
I take that back. Don't fumble!
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Old 12-28-2009, 02:09 PM   #5
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Re: Saints Limp Toward Season Finale

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2009 season, new orleans saints, tampa bay buccaneers

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