I Don't Know That Disappointment Is as Painful as Devastation, but the Saints Certainly Posed the Question With a Well-Deserved Playoff Loss
No mystifying missed tackle-enabled “miracle”. No inexcusably egregious act, or lack thereof, of officiating. No…well…once-in-a-lifetime, nauseatingly commercialized frozen moment in NFL history to distract from the fact that the New Orleans Saints, for the third year in a row, hardly even showed all their cards in bringing a premature end to another ‘Super Bowl or bust’ season without a chip to their name.
I’m sure many will disagree, but I can’t help but feel more disgusted by what happened on Sunday than I did by what happened when the Saints were making playoff football a more emotionally excruciating watch than a movie where the protagonist overcomes all other odds just to get hit by a bus while walking triumphantly into the sunset before the credits fatally roll. That’s probably a bit of recency bias, but the truth is that recency is all that really matters when you’re talking about trying to win another championship before the clock strikes midnight on a future first ballot HOF quarterback. Recently, everyone thought Drew Brees’ early season injury had a much fresher arm operating at peak performance when it mattered most, so there’s no bias necessary to say that him chucking a complete clunker at home against an undermanned secondary during what very well might have been his best and/or last chance to add another Lombardi to his legacy was a demonstrative disappointment.
Embarrassment. Relative to agony, that feeling probably falls pretty short on the hierarchy of haunted dreams, but it’s almost sadder that who I still consider the most complete team in the NFC bowed out of the first round in frighteningly forgettable fashion. From the top-down, a highly-talented roster led by a top-notch coaching staff simply shat the bed. The transcendent tag-team of Drew Brees and Sean Payton got taken to the cleaners by Mike Zimmer and allowed…::chokes back vomit::...Kirk Cousins to craft a whole ass tale of redemption out of no more than three or four very timely passes. An offensive line that was finally back at full strength certainly didn’t help matters, as the Vikings moved Everson Griffin inside and absolutely emasculated its weakest link, but the two men who have spent well over a decade mending otherwise brilliant minds to make their protection look pristine picked a bad day to have their worst days.
Honestly, the only time the Saints showed any urgency whatsoever prior to the 4th quarter was when the NFL's predominant defier of time constraints inexplicably decided that he absolutely had to sneak in a snap prior to the two-minute warning, and proceeded to use said snap to premeditatedly throw a soon-to-be easy interception into the double coverage of a player that hadn’t made a big play (while covered) in well over a month. Their ability to scratch and claw their way into overtime was cool and all, but at the end of yet another sad day it’s just a reminder that an offense that absolutely rolled through December, regardless of opponent, was absent for the vast majority of a home playoff game against inferior competition.
Credit Taysom Hill, Deonte Harris, and Trey Hendrickson for doing their best to keep the Saints' hopes alive, but the ultimate complimentary pieces having to serve as saviors speaks to what really cost them this game. That, of course, being that their best players apparently learned absolutely nothing about performing under pressure from the haunting heartbreak of suffering back-to-back, unprecedentedly devastating playoff defeats.
Marshon Lattimore spent 3rd down after 3rd down routinely getting dusted by a receiver who had his own rust to knock off in Adam Thielen. During the potential game-winning drive alone, Alvin Kamara lost precious time, meaningful yardage, and two of the many mind games he’s been oddly playing with himself all season. The beacon of consistent disruption that is Cam Jordan underwhelmed with his inability to anchor the defensive line and keep contain in limiting Dalvin Cook. Wil Lutz sent what is typically an automatic three points sailing wide-right instead of sending his team to the locker room tied at the half. Hell, even Michael Thomas, who presumably ran the wrong route on the play where Drew Brees quite literally dropped the ball in the red zone, was mediocre relative to the All-World expectations he’ll eternally have set for himself.
The talent atop the roster didn’t just fail to show out, it largely failed to show up, as evidenced by Drew Brees having seventy-six yards passing through three quarters and depending on his defense to grant him yet another opportunity to win the game after foolishly fumbling away a golden one late in the 4th quarter.
“Any given Sunday” and what not, but I can’t help but feel excruciatingly let down by a team that I truly believed to be irreproachably resilient after going with 5-0 without their consummate leader being able to lend so much as a healthy hand. So much so, in fact, that it makes me question their ability to rebound from this. There’s nothing to rally around this time. The only fingers to be pointed are in the mirror. For this team to put a bright, shiny exclamation point on a resurgent era of (regular season) success they’ll need to do a hell of a lot of soul-searching throughout an offseason that has no business being as long as it already feels. Throughout said offseason, their depth will likely take a sizable hit and their starting quarterback will have to carefully avoid the cliff that 40+ year old professional athletes are liable to plummet off of at a moment’s notice.
Long story short, there are plenty of reasons to doubt that the Saints can give themselves as good of a shot at a Super Bowl as they had this year, especially with this year ending the same way of far too many others during the do-or-die moments. A talented team simply spent the vast majority of an afternoon they eagerly awaited choking on their own tongue. Even if there were two ways around that fact then they have since been blocked off after having been used as detours from the harsh reality of their own missteps in painstaking postseason pasts. So don't bother arguing whether or not the offensive pass interference that allowed Kyle Rudolph room to leave the Saints locker room in ruins should have been called...
If last season taught the Saints anything it's that leaving their fate in the hands of the officials is a suicidal endeavor. Yet, they still spent a mind-blowing amount of time doing anything other than helping their own cause on Sunday, so I can't say I really understand being stunned by getting exactly what they deserved...
You don't have to stop riding with them to acknowledge, through backseat driving, that they started on their road to a Super Bowl by uncharacteristically swerving all over the goddamn place and ended up with a rightful result in watching their well-equipped ride go up in smoke.
The Saints Worked Out Antonio Brown This Morning, Which Isn't Anywhere Near as Intriguing as it is Alarming
Wait, what? No. Why?
Is the Saints’ organization just trying to give Roger Goodell & Co. a headache worthy of long-term hospitalization so that they aren’t around to orchestrate, in conjunction with the officials, a second straight subversion of a Super Bowl-worthy season? Is this all just an attempt by one of the league’s least favorite franchises to guarantee that AB will be put on the Commissioner’s Exempt List and thus won’t be available for postseason pickup by any of their potential opponents? Is Sean Payton just trying to break the tension of an upcoming playoff run by gifting his locker room the comic relief of the first-ever live performance of the highly-anticipated hit single ‘NO WHITE WOMAN 2020’?
While I appreciate the middle-finger-to-the-shield aspect of all this, I'm going to need a better explanation than doing "due diligence" on someone that shouldn't even be due internet access in the psych ward where he should be taking up residence. After all, if the question is whether or not New Orleans needs Antonio Brown then we've had the answer since Teddy Bridgewater took over and led a passing offense that was average in everything other than winning percentage to an undefeated record. With Drew Brees looking as though he recently found refreshment in the fountain of youth, the reward of adding a highly talented ticking time-bomb (that is basically destined to be defused by the NFL anyway) to an offense that is finally firing on all cylinders hardly broaches the risk of introducing a plague of a personality into an otherwise awesome locker room.
I don't need all Saints to be saintly, nor am I above celebrating a clutch touchdown scored by a nightmare of a narcissist or a self-sabotaging sociopath. However, with this team being so damn likable and deserving of a championship the last few seasons, sprinkling an alleged sexual assailant who is undeniably guilty of being an insufferable asshole into this team's chemistry would definitely make it a tinge distasteful. Both on and off the field, Michael Thomas is everything that is right about the New Orleans Saints, so to consider complimenting his play with a person who is the YIKES-to-his-yang when it matters most just feels downright dirty.
I was on board with adding another proven pass-catcher (preferably one without a severe psychological complex and/or brain damage) at the deadline, but the Saints' offensive performance of late hasn't just supported staying put at the position, it has been damn near defiant of needing reinforcements. To only now take steps toward addressing it as a need when the need no longer appears present is as flat-out baffling as a potential postseason plug-in of thy preeminent self-destructive distraction is highly concerning.
For the sake of my unconditional faith in Sean Payton, I honestly hope this workout wasn't orchestrated in anything even remotely resembling good faith. Not because Antonio Brown, when/if actually allowed on an NFL field, isn't physically capable of making an already great offense entirely unstoppable. But rather, because the one thing a team whose previous two seasons have ended in odds-defying and soul-shattering defeat doesn't need on their side is the worst kind of juju, and - to AB's dismay - I'm not talking about Smith-Schuster.
Right now, the Saints are only in dire of health, focus, and trust if they want to get where they are more than talented enough, as currently constructed, to go. I'm not sure any athlete has ever done a more demonstrative job of proving they represent none of those things than Antonio Brown, who is one flipped switch away from being back on the bat-shit crazy bullshit that got him quickly cut from an organization that was even able to control the impulses of a literal serial killer for more than ten days. You can't even tell me the last time Antonio Brown went 48 hours without being a problematic pain in the ass. What could possibly be learned during a workout that would make anyone, never mind one of the best coaches in the NFL, believe he could go a whole goddamn postseason without...well...being himself?
If you had asked me on Sunday what my thoughts were on Janoris Jenkins, I would have told you he’s more jackass than ‘Jack Rabbit’. Therefore, it would be disingenuous for me to let the black-n-gold lenses I have to view his addition through color him anything other than an asshole...
Personally, I think the r-word is about as much of a “slur” as it is a form of “slang”, in that you need to really stretch the definition of either word for it to fit either agenda. Regardless, a flat refusal to apologize for using what is now universally understood to be offensive language on social media - during practice, no less - is arguably as r-worded as anonymously talking senseless shit to professional athletes on the internet...
Janoris Jenkins lucked out in getting scooped up by a Super Bowl contender, but - with him having been already been involved in enough idiotic incidents for one word to get him cut from a team that lacks defensive talent - I think we can safely say that was due to more dumb luck than evil genius...
He might be one whose numbers are as forgiving as the complete shit-show of a secondary that had him looking like Deion Sanders relative to his positional peers, but a capable corner nonetheless. I don’t know that he’s one you'd feel great about starting in a playoff game after no more than a few weeks in your system, but you could do a lot worse as your in-case-of-emergency cover corner. Lord knows the Saints certainly have over the years, which explains why they put in the claim to protect themselves against Eli Apple potentially losing his back-and-forth battle with his own confidence when the lights are at their brightest. Again, I don't particularly like Janoris Jenkins the person, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel better about having Janoris Jenkins the player on my team as PJ Williams limped off the field late against the Colts.
Who knows? Maybe New York is purgatory for pissy pass defenders and New Orleans, in a way that is fittingly saintly, provides a nurturing environment that allows for their attitude and athleticism to flourish. No matter how frustrating you may find Eli Apple’s play of late, you can’t deny his almost immediate transformation from petulant problem child to competent complimentary corner after being trading from the Giants to the Saints last season. Culture clearly mattered in that (alleged head) case, so at least there is reason for Sean Payton & Co. to believe enough in their room to add a certain team's malcontent to it.
I think all Saints’ fans are in agreement that Terrell Suggs and his postseason experience would have been a preferable Christmas gift to a dinged up d-line. Still, Janoris Jenkins qualifies as another talented toy for a defense that has a history of going through them faster than a teething puppy...even if he is does come with a warning label and require a high level of maintenance to keep him together.
In Yet Another Record(s)-Setting Performance, Drew Brees Re-Introduced Himself as One of the Greats of Past and Present
To be honest, I’m fresh out of new ways to acknowledge, applaud, and admire Drew Brees’ continued greatness. When he “finally” threw the 540th touchdown pass of his career - after the officials made it clear that not even the most flawless game in NFL history will go by without them raining on the Saints’ parade, this time with a bullshit call that put history on hold until the second half - it honestly felt like the 540th time we’ve celebrated a living (and growing) legend. After reading off the following laundry list, it appears that isn’t anywhere near as hyperbolic as you’d think…
At this point, I feel stupid for not having a boilerplate statement prepared with blanks being left open for the specifics of mathematically inconceivable milestones and the increasingly defied age at which they were met. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am almost exhausted beyond words by the excellence of a quarterback who broke the record for career touchdown passes and the record for completion percentage in a game with a performance that felt pretty damn familiar. The truth is, if two contested catches had hit the ground over the course of Monday’s master class then it realistically would have had the eerily similar look of a lesson that you couldn’t pick out of lineup of those he has taught dumbfounded defenses over the last decade plus. For that reason, I was left looking like Teddy Bridgewater in the wake of a performance that was both awe-inspiring and somehow relatively run-of-the-most-finely-tuned-mill...
As for what his resurgence means for this season’s Saints team? Well, it can ditch the disguise, because it couldn’t possibly be more clear that Drew Brees’ thumb injury was just a flat-out blessing. Credit to Sean Payton's savvy, Teddy Bridgewater’s temperament, and the defense’s dominance for keeping everything in cruise control, because that early undefeated streak is at least partially responsible for Clark Kent hitting the phone booth when his duty is most urgently calling. The Saints’ ultimate equalizer is peaking, and what's largely been a pretty average offense looks primed and postseason-ready as a result. The freshness of a player who has looked 40-years-young is the closet thing to a failsafe or a fix-all, and that’s a hell of a thing for a team dealing with a bunch of injuries on the opposite side of the ball to suddenly fall back on. It helps that Drew Brees has a tool at his disposal, in Michael Thomas, that is unprecedentedly infallible in execution, but the important thing is that the arm utilizing him isn't dinged up or diminished like it appeared to be late last season.
I am interested to see what's in store this Sunday in Tennessee. The safest bet for a blowout is the Saints playing in the Dome in primetime when their All-World quarterback has his heart set and his eyes focused on putting another record in the rearview, and having the Super Bowl team in attendance for their 10-year anniversary might as well have guaranteed it a Monday Night massacre. It almost wasn’t even fair to expect the Colts, and a QB that looked much like…well…someone who was shocked to find out that he was taking the reigns of a presumed contender from a revered star who retired ten or so days before the season, to put up such an uphill fight.
For that reason, I want to see if a depleted pass rush can show better than it did against a solid offensive line that’s been entirely intact all season. The secondary won’t be granted the collective mile of margin for error like they were offered by Jacoby Brissett’s off-target throws, so whether or not they are able to give Ryan Tannehill fear-induced flashbacks to the days in which Adam Gase whispered sour nothings into his ear will speak volumes about their playoff readiness. Home-field advantage is but a pipe dream so seeing the offense keep their foot on the gas and/or an opponent's throat outdoors would also be a soothing sight for sore eyes.
That said, they couldn’t have put together a more comforting bounce-back game than they did against the Colts. The return of a remotely reliable AJ Klein allowed Demario Davis to put his full range of disruptiveness on full display and the secondary, which will be leaned on more heavily with the defensive line down three firsts worth of talent, was solid when it had to be. Most importantly, the unstoppable force we’ve seen routinely shatter records from under center kept gaining the type of momentum that even the most immovable of objects would worry about meeting head-on when it matters most.
Domination. A mercilessly clinical shredding unlike almost any we could ever dream of actually seeing. What Drew Brees did in manipulating the secondary he vividly envisioned in his own head, like each defensive back had its own string on the dummy defense he was puppeteering, was the exact type of stuff his legend will come to be made of. Sunday’s slaying of shadows probably won't occupy too much time on his career highlight package, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as important, if not more so, to the explanation of his excellence.
Above is your proof that only a thin line exists between insane and amazing, with the former often ushering in the latter. Saints’ fans weren’t just quick to take the under on the timetable of Brees’ thumb injury out of blind optimism. There was very much reason to believe he’d magically maneuver out of the constraints of modern medical practices. That reason was because he’s a psychotic competitor, which means he can often be mistaken as merely a psycho whenever he’s not literally competing against anyone other than his own insatiable self...
To be fair, I’m being biased. I would be fast to make fun of almost any other quarterback who stayed well after practice to play with himself for an hour. That bias, however, is born of watching a “6 foot tall", athletically limited passer pulverize professional football, in a way almost no other quarterback has, by way of deadly accuracy and such an acute awareness and understanding of defenses that he often times doesn’t even have to see them to actively avoid them (or coax them into avoiding him). I don't know that it's always true that you play like you practice, but it's a saying that would certainly explain why Drew Brees regularly looks like he's effortlessly acting (and reacting) out a premonition on game days.
I understand the desire to crack jokes at the expense of someone dapping up invisible men after executing an audible on an entirely open field, because "mental reps” are nearly indecipherable from manic episodes. However, with a 40-year-old being only one week removed from the type of prime performance that was him two touchdowns short of the record NFL record and a couple hours away from starring in a time slot where he’s proven beyond torturous, I think I might suppress that urge...
Those who are well into retirement after winning a Super Bowl alongside Drew Brees a goddamn decade ago are enamored with his certifiably insane preparation for a reason, and it’s because the results call for more reverence towards the otherwise irrational than an unconditional belief in organized religion.
With Injuries Mounting on the Defensive Line, the Saints Will Need to Prove Their Depth Wasn't Merely of Perception
Look, this news sucked…
…and this news, while sucking more than enough in its own right, makes that news suck even more….
The former begs questions about the long-term durability of a blossoming, endlessly athletic freak whose career will inevitably be defined by the return on the investment that ‘two firsts’ has come to be both fondly and sarcastically known by. The latter begs questions about a super-skilled pocket-penetrator's ability to regain his form as the shockingly fleet-of-foot destroyer of worlds he developed into prior to a previous season-ending setback as he heads into a contract year.
What neither should beg, however, is questions about the Saints’ ability to fulfill their Super Bowl aspirations this season. As simplistically dismissive as the following reads, injuries inevitably happen to every team in NFL. Therefore, while you’d prefer they don’t afflict starters down the stretch, the best case scenario is that you suffer them at readily reinforced positions. Everyone was basting their turkey to the Saints' defensive line depth on Thanksgiving, and I regret to inform you that depth isn’t only an amazing thing to have when it's allowing you to flagrantly fondle yourself to an embarrassment of available riches.
Let’s not forget, there were people that thought Trey Hendrickson was a better player than Marcus Davenport earlier this season. Granted, those people were prisoners of the moment and/or future inhabitants of an insane asylum, but it even being up for dumbfounding debate speaks to the evolving capabilities of a third round pick whose annually exciting August audition finally resulted in him earning an impactful role in meaningful games. Shy Tuttle might be lesser known, regardless of his starring role in a timeless GIF, but rest assured that his overall play of late is anything but bashful...
With Cam Jordan routinely causing chaos as a catastrophic combination of consistency and production, the Saints’ pass-rush is in good hands, whether or not all hands are currently on deck.
I don't mean to undersell these injuries. Losing both Davenport and Rankins for the year on the heels of a likely last-second loss of homefield advantage to their most complete in-conference competition definitely does feel a lot like the Saints stubbed the hell out of a toe or two while stumbling around recovering from a stomach-churning gut punch.
Still, the truth of the matter is that this team already passed its most trying and torturous test with flying covers. The defense held up its end of the bargain when it largely served as Teddy Bridgewater’s emergency floatation device as he soaked in the sun during an undefeated stretch as the starting quarterback. Now, it is the turn of an offense that just smacked around the best defense in football like it refused to pay its gambling debts, despite their most recurring matchup nightmare looking as though he was busy daydreaming, to pick up the slack.
If the rest of the linebackers get healthy enough to free up the dog that is Demario Davis, a lesser sheltered secondary gets its shit together, and Drew Brees continues creating chemistry by making good on the disguised blessing that was a throwing arm made fresh by over a month free of football then offsetting a decided drop in quarterback pressures shouldn't be a remotely unreasonable ask. Two of the three were presumed strengths of this team before the season even started, so it's quite fitting that they'll have to show exactly why for the New Orleans Saints to prove themselves to their fullest potential as they approach the postseason.
You Are, Quite Literally, Better Off Tending to Your Mediocre Meat Than Questioning Sean Payton's Aggressiveness
Let’s start with indisputable fact. Sean Payton, for all his ingenuity, is not always right (::insert audible gasp::). What he is, however, is right far more than often enough to justify his unconditional and unwavering belief in just about every decision he’s ever made.
I’m not sitting here and saying that the pit that was already in my stomach didn’t develop a pit in its stomach when the Saints lined up for a two-point conversion early in one of those sick-and-twisted games whose fate feels like it’ll inevitably be decided by its result. I am sitting here and saying that in the sizable scrotum required to drop 46 points on the skull the best defense in football, largely without the help of two of your biggest matchup nightmares (Cook due to concussion and Kamara due to undisclosed ineffectiveness), reside the nuts to never look at one single yard as an actual obstacle.
Simply put, questioning Sean Payton is a fool’s errand. Not because all his calls are entirely beyond reproach, but because his answer is always going to be made smug by a stupefying success rate. We are talking about one of the most unapologetically aggressive coaches in all of sports. Someone who sparked a second half Super Bowl comeback with the most fearless onsides kick in NFL history. Therefore, and I feel like this hardly bears mentioning, you are undeniably better off staring down at the shitty slab of meat in your hand - be it inferior, expired, infantile, infertile, or impotent - than asking for an explanation from an absolute authority on offensive football. No matter how confident you are in your beef, it’ll never come remotely close in grade to the stake that a crazed competitor like Sean Payton has in his unrelenting plan of attack for the New Orleans Saints.
You do have to appreciate the passion of each and every member of the Who Dat Nation. That said, if you find yourself feeling particularly inquisitive while in a random postgame meat-and-great with a revered risk-taker….either beat it (figuratively or literally) or be ready to get grilled by the master, because Sean Payton has made far smarter people look stupid in...ahem...butchering the doubts of his naysayers.
The Saints Defense Looked Slightly Drunker Than the 49ers in What We May Look Back on as a Highly Intoxicated Preview of the NFC Championship Game
I'm not sure I can conjure up the appropriate words to fully describe a back-and-forth, seatbelt-less roller coaster ride of a game. If I can then I probably already did countless times over the course of a HoF career throughout which Drew Brees has been left to carry his team up-and-down the field while dragging the dead-weight of a dysfunctional defense.
I guess what I am trying to say is that, in being a game that was unlike any other, it had a hell of a lot in common with so many of the Saints' others over the years. To most, it was odd to watch two of the better defenses in the NFL this season get curb-stomped. However, an offensive acid trip - complete with a couple dumb luck turnovers, some top-notch trickery, and...as has become completely customary…a dick kick or two from astounding officiating - had the Who Dat Nation suffering through cold sweats six different ways to Sunday, circa 2014-2016.
In typical be-careful-what-you-wish-for fashion, it took the Saints' otherwise dominant defense displaying the rhyme and reason of players being aimlessly led by electricity for the passing offense to explode out of the shell of itself that it has been stuck in this season. Being without multiple starting linebackers against a revolutionized offense that feasts on the middle of the field with misdirection can partially explain how they got completely devoured, as you can't scheme sideline-to-sideline speed out of an old, rusty replacement like Craig Robertson. However, Marcus Williams' bi-annual, head-in-hands undoing of his overall improvement as a player is the type of inexcusable idiocy that was all-too-common in tarnishing what was a vintage performance from both Drew Brees and his offensive line…
When it comes to playing complimentary football, the Saints offense and defense might as well be taking turns standing on opposite sides of the sideline going barb-for-barb in a roast battle. If acts of service is their love language then they've made a compelling argument that they genuinely despise each other. Even with Deonte Harris playmaking and peacemaking on special teams, they remained as stubborn to being constructive co-habitants of the same locker room as emotionally constipated college roommates.
Never mind a theatrical reversal of roles that might have been too over-the-top for Wife Swap. During a game in which stopping absolute anything, even if it was only the damn clock, was considered a monumental moral victory, the Saints needed a 55-yard FG to redeem any points whatsoever on an absolute gift of an interception to start the second half. As if that wasn’t ironically obnoxious enough, Alvin Kamara immediately stole a rare opportunity for Saints’ fan to safely take half-a-breath by putting the ball on the turf during the first play after the forced punt that followed. The Saints' defense made just barely enough plays to allow Drew Brees a chance to do what he does best in leading a late, "game-winning" charge...annnnnd he predictably proved too efficient in leaving what the entire churning-stomach of a stadium knew to be more than enough time for him to be let down. On one hand, those are all signs that this team is still avoiding putting together their best, most complete game. On the other, it’s getting pretty late in the season to just assume that they conveniently will when it matters most.
The truth is, aside from playoff seeding, I don’t know that we can make out all that many broad strokes from the big picture of yesterday’s game. Credit to Sean Payton and Kyle Shanahan, but not even those two offensive ninjas could could draw their swords and out-duel what was a flat-out dissection of each other's defense if these two teams were to meet again. I think a ever-so-slightly sedated second half speaks to that.
That being said, I personally think (with only a hint of bias) that New Orleans’ offensive performance is more replicable than that of San Francisco. Despite having to abruptly erase Jared Cook from a game-plan that might as well have had his face on the cover, being unable to solve the mystery of whatever is now blatantly missing from Alvin Kamara’s game/glamour, and whiffing on almost every gimmicky haymaker they threw, the Saints still managed to move the ball methodically enough to keep pace with the chunk yards that Kyle Shanahan kept pulling from up his sleeve and out his ass for Jimmy G. Impossible is nothing, especially if it involves an organization that was a flare for downright foolish fatalities, but the odds alone say that he won’t be able to lean so heavily on executing through smoke and mirrors with a 100% success rate in the postseason.
Honestly, it feels like nitpicking to overreact to the result of an early two-point attempt whose failure immediately foreshadowed a mathematically fucked finish. It’s a bit much to whine about Sean Payton’s middle-schooler-playing-Madden-like approach to using Alvin Kamara to chisel helplessly at an edge that was cemented by Nick Bosa ad nauseam. Wondering what the far more effective Latavius Murray did to become the team’s resident red-headed stepchild is fair, but also too firm considering the 46-point output. You can crucify a referee for being fooled into throwing an eventual 4-point flag by Kyle Juszcyzk, whose presumably broken brain apparently regenerated in time for him to back on the field catching passes the next drive, but it's not even worth treating bullshit officiating as anything other than an unavoidable occupational hazard at this point in the season...
I suppose you could also crush a promising young player for making the rookie mistake of missing on a desperation dive that, for all intents and purposes, cost his team the game, even if he did have little business being left 1-on-1 with the Hulk-like creature that is George Kittle with the game quite literally on the line...
However, trying to pick one negative thing to harp on from what was basically a 3.5 hour anxiety attack is a fool's errand that should teach us the one thing that could actually have been learned from that game. That, of course, being that NFC Champion might damn well be decided by a figurative (or literally, who even knows) coin flip with the margins being as microscopic as they were yesterday.
The Saints suffered a tough loss that should leave them with plenty of room to self-reflect on the mistakes that kept them from winning in said margins, but it wasn't necessarily a bad loss that should have them fearing a potential trip to San Francisco in January.
Raheem Mostert Has Apparently Taken His Hearing for Granted, as He Believes the Niners are Playing on a "Neutral Field" Tomorrow
I gotta be honest, this just doesn't move the needle for me in terms of motivational material. Maybe it's the fact that Sean Payton had already pre-set Sunday's sound to deafening with his bi-annual incitement of the home crowd's most hysterical behavior...
...but Raheem Mostert's words, that were ignorant at best and idiotic at worst, hardly feel remotely realistic or relevant enough to be worthy of a spot on anyone's bulletin board.
The SuperDome? A neutral field? I'll consider fielding slights when are at all neutral, because thinking Niners fans will get so much as a word in tomorrow is almost as objectively stupid as having the basis of that claim be that they felt at home in Los Angeles, which is basically a Bed & Breakfast to all opposing NFL fans.
Bill Gates wouldn't let it interrupt him swimming laps in his infinity pool of profit if someone called him a broke ass bitch. Zac Efron wouldn't so much as turn his chiseled cheekbone for a double take if someone said he had a fat face. By the same logic, New Orleans need not waste even a single decibel in justifying with a response the idea that they are anything less than highly hostile hosts to the soon-to-be hearing-impaired.
I know he was just kissing the collective ass of San Francisco, but Raheem Mostert would have had a better chance of preying on the insecurities of Saints' fans if he said that the 49ers had an edge at quarterback tomorrow. I can't imagine there's anyone deathly afraid of Jimmy Gee-I-didn't-even-see-that-linebacker outplaying a future first ballot HoFer on his own turf, but at least there is a world in which such an outcome is possible. I'm assuming Raheem Mightstart spent the last week trying to stay in the top half of the depth chart, as opposed to collecting DNA samples from all over the greater New Orleans region and sewing shut the mouthes of sixty-some thousand voodoo dolls. Therefore, the same can't be said of the 49ers' faithful taking center stage in a building that the Who Dat Nation hardly needs outside instigation to test the structural integrity of...
The Saints...Passed...on Letting Suspect Officiating...Interfere...in What an Undeniably Ugly and Torturous Win Over the Panthers
In a season that is very much Super Bowl or near-suicidal seasonal depression, it’s hard to feel great about sneaking out a victory against a team that realistically didn’t belong on the same field as the Saints in a game that, pretty much out of nowhere, seemed doomed for a disastrous fate. Simply put, there was a lot to dislike about blowing multiple double-digit leads and needing to summon a little late-game wizardry between #9 and Magic Mike to strip the Panthers of a potential upset and just barely claw out a win in the SuperDome.
PJ Williams doing his absolute best (i.e. worst) to make November 24th ‘Marshon Lattimore Appreciation Day’. The defense appearing to think the term “running back” was more of a rigid restriction than an antiquated name for a versatile position in looking at Christian McCaffrey as if he were a flying pig every time he exited the backfield to run an uncontested passing route. Sean Payton letting the long-overdue excitement from Jared Cook’s coming out party turn him so hysterically pass-happy that you’d think he had too much cake and was suffering from a sugar rush in having a 40 year old arm repeatedly sling it downfield. The devil on his shoulder apparently slapping Latavius Murray’s first half stat-line out of the hands of the angel on his other shoulder in forming the makings of a pretty good malpractice suit for a guy whose usage hasn't exactly added up given what he showed in his midseason audition for the vacated role of Mark Ingram. A collective amount of discipline that you'd sooner expect to see from a third grade classroom on Halloween, as highlighted by Cam Jordan taking out the frustration of early-season slipped sacks out on a defenseless QB with a ferocious forearm shiver that kept alive both a dead drive and any hope whatsoever for an overmatched rival...
Fortunately, those reasons can all be overlooked. As unsatisfying as it was to barely beat a .500 team whose back they repeatedly had against the ropes in their own building, it was even more satisfying to beat a ridiculously one-sided group of officials who gave the Saints the ironic middle finger the entire football world was patiently waiting for with the biggest “fuck you for holding a grudge and making us do our jobs competently after we boned you raw" call of all-time. You can't convince me this gets overturned against anyone other than New Orleans in New Orleans (as evidenced by Jared Cook's phantom offensive PI being upheld earlier in the game), nor should you even want to waste time trying if you’ve watched officials blatantly big league far more egregious challenges all season…
And yet, as the Saints were pushed into the shadow of their own end zone with the score tied and time ticking down, a defense that had been dismantled on the day stepped up and snapped that finger clean off with a scoreless stop that may have, in the moment, increased Marcus Davenport’s value to three firsts...
....then handed it off to Drew Brees so he could do the honors of delivering it down the field for Wil Lutz to boot directly up the collective ass of a crew that clearly had it out for them in bearing false witness to a game whose penalty discrepancy reads like the description of a 3.5-hour mugging...
Never mind the Panthers best shot, the Saints also withstood a blatantly bullshit low blow from refs whose transparently spiteful message quickly got crumbled up and thrown right back in their stupid face.
Hard to feel too, too bad about decisions and mistakes that are, at least in theory, easily correctable and injuries that are presumably quick-healing when the most impactful fix was the one they managed to overcome when every penalized push was met with an "enough is enough"-style shove once the game was truly on the line.
Ah, now that's more like it.
Another record-setting dose of Michael Thomas, a hyper-active injection of Alvin Kamara, a dusting of Jared Cook, and an unglamorously effective amount of Latavius Murray. Mix it all up and serve it with a defense that's proven itself to be something damn close to dominant and....VOILA!...you have whatever ailed the Saints as much as Terron Armstead's flu last Sunday, regardless of whether or not the person under center already has a spot cleared for him in the Hall of Fame.
To put it in more matter-of-fact terms, until we see otherwise, the fate of the 2019 New Orleans Saints isn't riding on the arm of Drew Brees. That was made pretty clear when their record went unscathed with Teddy Bridgewater taking the wheel. The health of the most accomplished of helping hands certainly gives the offense increased efficiency and the entire roster more margin for error, but Sean Payton had to learn the hard way that there's a limit to the amount of air his arsenal can raid nowadays. I say the following as a positive, but it's not 2011 anymore. No matter how much the mad scientist schemes, a balanced attack is the only thing that is going counteract the predictability of the 'AK & the UnGuardable' show. Fear not, however, because it's the exact type of offense that pairs perfectly with a defense that apparently needs not its premier corner to routinely force offenses off the field by hook or by crook.
The absence of another proven and reliable pass-catching option will continue to seem annoyingly avoidable, as you'd need the very bottom of the box scores to be in brail to at all feel the impact of a Saints' receiver not named Michael Thomas. However, if this team plays to where its bread has been buttered then it shouldn't matter that every opposing secondary isn't already considered toast. It is probably a fool's errand to discount the killer instinct of the galaxy brain shared by Drew Brees and Sean Payton and assume them incapable of throwing it back and emasculating an opponent with a patented SuperDome shit-kicking, but it's far from the sheer certainty that it once was. I had to pinch myself in bringing myself to type this, but this team is driven by its defense...even if its fearless leader and the two most dynamic weapons at his disposal repeatedly creep up from the backseat to heavily "opine" on its direction.
Look no further than yesterday for proof. Don't let the garbage time stats fool you, because the secondary - sans Marshon Lattimore (and led by the Eli Apple of his eye) - occupied the entirety of the void his absence left under Mike Evans' skin...
Chris Godwin got on the board against an overmatched rookie in CGJ, but ultimately snagged less passes from Jamies Winston than the Saints' defense did. Cam Jordan didn't so much as slow down in running right over whatever "Speedbump McGee" was put in front of him, and a highly potent downfield passing attack was forced to play into Demario Davis' torture chamber by checking down as they tried, and completely failed, to avoid turning the ball over. The early production of the offense was aided by the quick work of the defense and when the former slightly slowed the latter made damn sure it didn't much matter...
To this day it seems weird that simply possessing the ball is even remotely as important to a Sean Payton-led team as putting up points, since the Who Dat Nation has been pessimistically programmed to think of any one punt as a concession of defeat. However, running the ball is complementary to a passing offense with limited options, that is in turn complimentary to their unconditionally undeterred defense. That's what we've learned since Drew Brees has come back, and it is fortunately a lesson that - historically speaking - bears its best results through December and beyond.
The Saints Put Forth a Downright Sinful Offensive Performance in Being Harshly Humbled by the Falcons at Home
I was not naive and/or biased enough to think that the Saints were unlike every other professional sports team, never mind just their NFL peers, in being immune to resting a little too comfortably on their laurels. But man, needing a wake-up call that would make the repetitive, eardrum-piercing iPhone alarms you set for yourself seem tame while coming off the bye week sure seems like odd timing.
Two weeks to prepare for the hostile welcoming of the most hated of rivals. Yet, it legitimately looked like a rejuvenated roster that was fully-dialed in while overcoming the absence of Drew Brees had strongly considering calling in sick prior to showing up with the cross-eyed focus of a 20-something with a long weekend's worth of booze on his breath. To put it mildly, the Saints' performance, specifically on offense, sure made this once appreciable sentiment stink of complacency in retrospect...
Inexplicable, if not unforgivable, L's always have a weird way of being delivered by those with which you are most familiar, so the Saints getting served by the Falcons isn't nearly as ridiculous as their records indicate. The truth is that the Who Dat Nation probably should have known they were in for an absolute anomaly of an afternoon when a run defense with an irrefutable resume of impenetrability let A-Town's pedestrian rushing attack stomp all over their yard on the opening drive. That alone should have been a pretty clear indication that you could crumble up any sort of conventional wisdom and throw it in a pile of pointless precedent that always seems to grow larger during divisional games.
An excuse for an offense that somehow leaned heavier on a 'Michael Thomas or bust' game-plan immediately after being given plenty of time to recalibrate, however, that is not. You want to point to Andrus Peat going down and Terron Armstead playing through the flu to give a pass to a protection plan that would make a used-car salesman smirk then be my guest. However, what was presumed to be a revamped rushing attack that, through a slight squint, could resemble the Alvin & Ingram show was offered all of 11 combined carries (with only 7 coming after their opening drive) to take pressure off a depleted line during a game that a Lattimore-less defense kept within a single score until the 4th quarter. It hardly makes a dent in his otherwise rock solid display of coaching this season, but Sean Payton play-calling was as questionable as the efforts of the wide receivers not wearing #13, who somehow managed as many catches on 45 pass attempts as their coach snagged with his weekend proposal...
Purpose to panic? Hardly, but what we witnessed on Sunday was a cause for the same exact concern that had Saints' fans deafeningly dumbfounded as the trade deadline passed quietly. The offensive line has more than proven to be far better than it was in letting the Falcons' benign front four cripple their game plan, but the complimentary playmakers that got locked up by a suspect secondary while Drew Brees went touchdown-less in the SuperDome cannot say the same. Someone has to step up opposite the the NFL's most unguardable, and it's much harder to believe that's going to happen after failing to take any advantage whatsoever of what should have been a more than merciful matchup at home.
If anything, it's a massive understatement to say that what the Saints suffered on Sunday was a bad loss, but it gave them a good goddamn look at what needs to be improved and/or emphasized if they want to make good on the promise they all seemed motivated to keep while somewhat miraculously heading into the bye week at 7-1. Maybe their midseason form was undermined by a week off, or maybe football is just a fickle, fickle game that is quick to make no sense whatsoever. Whatever the case may be, it's important lesson learned for a team that may have gotten a little too gratified with their grades after acing a massive test with Teddy Bridgewater under center, as they looked undisciplined in suffering a demoralizing defeat at the hands of those least likely to let them forget it.
Sure Starting to Sound Like Teddy Bridgewater Has Lined Himself to Win This Year's Quarterback Lottery in Free Agency
Damn. That quick, huh?
Don't get me wrong, I'm hardly in the quiet car on the 'Pay Teddy' train. Yes, even if Drew Brees keeps turning back the hands on Father Time's clock and that money is being shelled out by a team other than the Saints in a city that will unquestionably adore him less than New Orleans. Considering all that he's been through, and the enduringly optimistic attitude he's maintained while going through it, there isn't a quarterback more deserving of signing a huge contract with a grandiose amount of guaranteed money and, realistically, an impossible-to-live-up-to average salary.
I didn't mean for that last part to come off so doubtful, as I'll continue to emphasize that I love Teddy Bridgewater, but when I say "quick" I'm not even referring the entirety of the five-game win streak during which he pumped cup his price tag by keeping the Saints on the fast track to Super Bowl contention. The truth is that the volume on the hype machine didn't get turned up until he made gator food out of the Buccaneers' secondary in his third start. It echoed long enough to last through an extremely humdrum win over the Jaguars until the bass got kicked into overdrive during a dismantling of the vaunted Bears defense in Chicago. Still, while Teddy was a lot of great things for an otherwise complete Saints' team (safe, smart, stable, and everything else an otherwise complete team needed him to be), what he wasn't was some deadly accurate, 20-30 million dollar quarterback.
Again, I'd be more than happy to see someone compensate him like him and do hope that's a shoe that eventually fits, but he's got what I'd consider two impressive starts that exceeded the average interpretation of game management under his belt this season. Long story short, whoever is stepping on the gas in backing up the Brinks truck for Teddy will be banking high on his Payton-less potential in paying an egregious amount of interest on this dime, which will likely serve as his swan song as a starter while heading into free agency...
There are countless worse options to overpay, and I think all of New Orleans would tell you they'd consider Teddy receiving a monster deal from a QB-desperate team the next best case if he understandably doesn't care to keep waiting out Drew Brees as the heir to a perfectly fit throne. Still, his value already being tagged somewhere in the mid-twenties is a pretty eye-popping reminder of how rash NFL organizations get when it comes to trying to the fill the position that gives you the best odds of being revenant.
It's not happening. Only in the wildest dreams of a Who Dat Nation of fans, that find faith in every flex that follows yet another inevitable first down catch from someone who has turned Cant Guard Mike from a twitter handle to an irrefutable fact of life, does Michael Thomas stand a chance of being recognized as the NFL's most impactful player. That's due in small part to him forever feeling subconsciously slighted and caring about endearing himself to voters as much as he cares about endearing himself to the corners, who might as well be nameless and faceless, whose confidence he chokes the life out of every Sunday. However, it's due mostly to playing a position whose value predominantly pales in comparison to that of those entrusting him with targets.
Of course, the idea that even the best wide receivers are quarterback-dependent has been counter-punched by the unconditional efficiency of a player whose every route run, whether it be at the cue of Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Brees, now comes with the expectation that it will end with him being more open than the MVP race...
Still, the options under center would have to be few and far between come Week 16 for a pass-catcher to break decades of precedent in having the league's most decorated award be within their catch radius.
That, however, doesn't mean it's not worth offering the argument. As deaf as the ears on which they may ring, Michael Thomas' numbers speak for themselves. Receptions. Yards. Catch rate. They voice a level of production and consistency that are setting the pace for history in putting to a damn whimper the play of every single one of his pass-happy peers...
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray have taken turns picking up some slack, but the offense of a team that enters the bye on a six-game win streak despite losing its All-World QB for over a month has largely been dragged through the strength of its schedule by the unrelenting vice grip of its money man...
You want an out-of-the-box (score) stat on which to judge a season that, to this point, has been superior to the one that earned Michael Thomas what was the richest wide receiver contract ever? How about ROI? The return the Saints have gotten on their investment into what's typically considered a complimentary position has been their main source of success. Never mind it being the cost of doing business, because if you had to put a price tag on a performance that has thus far transcended the toughest of circumstance then it might well exceed the 21+ million dollars that Michael Thomas is due this year.
Simply put, we're talking about a guy that knows full well what it's like to serve as the exception to a rule. That far, far more than likely won't prove true when the MVP eventually gets awarded, but - at the midseason point - counting out a competitor as crazed as Mike is as futile an endeavor as guarding him.
Thumbs Up, Cards Down: Drew Brees Was Very Much Back as the Saints Ruled With an Iron Fist en Route to a 6th Straight Win
Let me start by reiterating something entirely unnecessary. On behalf of the tens of thousands of Who Dat's who loudly let his name ring off the resounding walls of the SuperDome during an afternoon in which he wasn't much more than a spectator/stand-in to a familiar form of Drew Brees' brilliance, Teddy Bridgewater is hereby a beloved person, player, and - pending the conclusion of what's shaping up to be a special season - legend in New Orleans...
As for his revered replacement, any doubts that may have been shamelessly spread amongst those that aren't anywhere near as intimately knowledgeable of the state of Drew Brees' throwing hand as one of the most well-managed teams in the NFL were put to rest yesterday. Never mind blabbering on about two more weeks of rest as if that's not the equivalent of an eternity to a crazed competitor whose numbered days as a professional athlete probably have him on the verge of an existential crisis, because knocking the rust off against an inferior opponent prior to 14 days of pressure-less preparation was clearly the right decision.
I would have been more than fine with going the cautious route in starting Teddy, but Drew Brees needed to get back into the swing of things, as evidenced by an uncharacteristic mismanagement of the clock that - regardless of being a product of endlessly questionable officiating - took points off the board at the end of the half...
He needed to get re-adjusted to the unmatched intensity of the NFL gameday experience, as evidenced by him turning the ball over on an absolute head-scratcher of a "shit, I hit the wrong button"-type YOLO pass to a fullback in double coverage...
When in midseason form, he doesn't make those mistakes, so yesterday was as good a time as any to get him up to speed prior to a point in the schedule when it becomes full-speed ahead. In turning a long-shot into a laugher as the game wore on, he certainly seemed to step on the gas in zooming past any concerns about the health of his hand or his readiness to readily rely on it.
The Saints, as a whole, did what they have done with an increasing level of dominance since the beginning of the season in imposing their will on the opposition. Since the outlier in Los Angeles, they have not coincidentally been undefeated in the trenches. The defense has gone from stuffing the run to flat out scaring teams out of even trying to get the ground game going, and the scary part is that I don't even blame the opposing coaches. I understand Kliff Kingsbury resorting to desperate measures in fighting up a weight class, but calling a 4th down dive into the middle of this defense on his own 30 in a one score game was damn near a fireable act of offense...
Especially since it sparked the fuse to the type of scorching one would typically expect from a Drew Brees-led offense in the SuperDome. The clock struck 'Taysom Time' and a spanking much like the one Patrick Peterson endured while being dragged into the end zone at the legs of an unguardable adonis put an emasculating exclamation on the afternoon...
Honestly, it's becoming close to a misnomer to merely say that this team is resilient, because this iteration of the New Orleans Saints is damn near regenerative. It's as if you cut a limb off and it immediately starts growing back stronger. If Drew Brees' performance was an indicator of things to come then his injury will prove to be blessing in disguise in keeping a 40 year old fresh for a strong finish. If Latavius Murray continues to be half the bell-cow back he's been while Alvin Kamara has been reinforcing his rubber limbs for the stretch run? A dynamic duo comparable to the illustrious Ingram & AK connection is hardly out of the question that was being worrisomely whispered amongst the entire fanbase while he sat collecting dust on the sidelines in September. PJ Williams finally got suspended for driving drunk in the dawn of last winter's depressing disappointment, and what has happened since? Dennis Allen has spawned some hybrid of PJ Williams and a pit bull out of a 4th round rook as Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has attacked his opportunity with inexhaustible aggressiveness...
These Saints haven't just kept pace in jumping over ever hurdle set in their path, they've managed to hit the ground accelerating in turning every perceived negative into a long-term positive. Teddy Bridgewater got a flat on the bicycle he rides to and from every home game yesterday, and that is somehow legitimately in contention for the most demoralizing thing that's happened to the team since he started his stainless stint under center...
We are talking 7-1, with the Saints having already pinned the strength of their schedule in running off six straight, and yet we've somehow yet to see the most complete version that either side of the ball has to offer. You couldn't possibly ask for more out of the team without sounding like the most spoiled of brat. That, however, doesn't mean that they won't have much more to offer in giving an elite and energized quarterback an upgraded arsenal of weapons to compliment a suffocating defense after spending a well-deserved week of rest greasing the gears and undergoing a total tune-up prior to an increasingly promising postseason race.
Long story short, when it comes to the trajectory of the New Orleans Saints, I'm not so sure the most adequate representation isn't both simply and symbolically a thumbs up.
Let me be the first to say that I'd gladly spend another week watching Teddy Bridgewater up his offseason ante, especially against an inferior defense who is entering the hostile confines of the SuperDome, if it meant that Drew Brees was even .01% healthier down the stretch for a Super Bowl run. For that reason, I think the Saints probably should take advantage of the leeway they have afforded themselves by somehow breezing through with a blemish-free record while Brees-less and have him spend the next two weeks sitting on his reengineered thumb - metaphorically speaking, of course - as opposed to pushing its limits.
Unfortunately, what I know is that what I think couldn't possibly matter any less. There is exactly one thing that everyone who shares my opinion has in common, and that is a fundamental inability to relate to the near-psychotic level of competitiveness that has enabled a man well into his 40's to maintain an elite level of performance at the most difficult position in all of professional sports.
In theory, yes, the upcoming bye week does come at the perfect time in offering the perfect opportunity for an aging athlete to slowly but surely ease his way back into swing of things. In execution, no, there isn't anyone who is about to test that theory by telling the football-obsessed freak below to choose playing it safe over playing quarterback this Sunday...
I say the following as lovingly as humanly possible, Drew Brees is a lunatic. He lives and breathes football, and more than likely has spent every waking second since his injury doing even the most trivial of exercises in hopes of cutting his recovery time by even a single minute. Telling him he shouldn't participate after the medical staff (presumably) clears him to is the equivalent of telling him he has to wait two more weeks, after what's essentially been a month plus of forced fasting, to cut into a juicy filet mignon as the aroma wafts directly into his nostrils. I haven't the slightest doubt that he's extremely happy for Teddy Bridgewater, but Jesus Christ himself could have been the one chosen to take the wheel from him for the last five weeks and every single missed snap would still eat at his God-fearing soul.
Point being, if both he and a licensed physician, that understands the risks better than fans ever could, agree that he's absolutely good to go then go he absolutely will, and the only "bye" that will be a part of that decision is the one he dismissively waves to anyone that tries to talk him out of it. Sean Payton is perhaps the only other person capable of telling him "no", and he's one of the very few that possesses enough of that same killer instinct to understand full well how futile it would be to even try.
Annnd, that'll about do it. Honestly, other than out of respect for the job Frank Reich has done on the heels of his starting quarterback calling it quits a couple weeks before kickoff, is there any reason not to award Sean Payton the 'Coach of the Year' trophy prior to the mid-point of said season? I suppose it would an endless source of incessant bitching off the board for the stupidity spewers on sports talk television, but I think they can probably stand to have one topic that's not really up for all that much debate left without cyclical, repetitive argument.
In all seriousness, the undermanned schooling that Sean Payton and the Saints gave Matt Nagy and the Bears in Chicago on Sunday was merely the most convincing lecture offered during what's been a month-plus long master class in both coaching and leadership. The backup quarterback-led bullying of what was supposed to be "the best defense in football", without Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook, was simply an exclamation point on a 5-0 stretch that not only kept a 'Super Bowl or bust' season afloat, but may have realistically made for smoother sailing.
What that offensive and defensive clinic wasn't, however, was the most impressive thing that Sean Payton has orchestrated since watching the longtime lifeblood of the franchise that had just entrusted him with its uncertain future under center, by way of a contract extension, fail to grip a football. In my opinion, that title is reserved for whatever he said and/or did to motivate and challenge a team that he helped build to withstand a crisis at quarterback - in a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency sort of way - to prove him right in its construction. The last of what was initially and understandably bleak body language got left in Los Angeles along with the player whose injury could have easily derailed the dreams of a less relenting roster. Putting the kibosh on any lingering self-pity, above all else, is an accomplishment that speaks to the culture of a team that has largely been made in the likeness of Sean Payton's personality.
What we've seen on the field since is a fluid formula whose lone constant, outside of Michael Thomas' inability to be guarded and the defense's ability to step up and captain the ship through unforgiving waters that would have drowned them in the past, is that it has equated to victories. The game scripts haven't been the same, but the endings have been more dependably happy than those of rom-coms. That's a testament to a complete team that has hardly played mistake-free football, but instead played supplementary football in finding a versatile variety of ways to make up for those mistakes. It's also a credit to opponent-specific game plans, on both sides of the ball, that have made Sean Payton, Dennis Allen, & Co. look as though they were slipped the world's most elaborate cheat sheet prior to the biggest test of their respective careers.
Still, the execution of those game plans wouldn't be at all possible without a level of belief and buy-in that's done the near impossible in making Colin Cowherd's claim that a team that rebounded from the 'Minneapolis Miracle' would have its spirit shattered by the 'NOLA No-Call' out to be the stupidest fucking thing he's ever said. At this point, you can just definitively call that take the worst of all time, as not even the worst case scenario coming to fruition was able to break this team's will.
On both the field and the sidelines, the Saints' biggest advantage resides between their ears...which says quite a bit given the amount of god-given physical talent wearing black & gold ever weekend. They haven't just been resilient in rallying around Teddy Bridgewater, whose sprinkled in just enough dimes during his first extended stretch of play since 2015 to collect the interest of a fat chunk of change this upcoming offseason. They have appeared completely unbothered in being without the services of someone who has long been their beating heart. They haven't just been coached towards the top of the NFC without their future first ballot HOF quarterback. They've been galvanized in a way that allows for their future first ballot HOF quarterback to step back under center for a team that barely has any body fat in being more solid, strong, and intimidating than any he has predominantly done the heavy lifting for over the course of the last 14 seasons.
Hell, the only reason not be consider Sean Payton to have already lapped the pack for 'Coach of the Year' is because he somehow made the somewhat miraculous midseason maintenance of a Super Bowl contender, that was assumed to have lost its soul, look far too easy despite facing a schedule that was supposedly tough.
Much Like Almost Every Football Thrown in His General Direction the Last Three Years, 100 Million Dollar Mike Finally Secured His Bag
It might read like a weird thing to write about a contract negotiation that resulted in a star player’s absence from a Super Bowl contender’s training camp, but I don’t think there was a more fitting way for the New Orleans Saints and Michael Thomas to finally commit to each other for the next five years. Honestly, given everything we’ve come to know of a braintrust that’s always been bullish on their ability to replace skill position players who are up for a raise and a wideout who was aggressively and openly aware of his need for a massive one, it wouldn’t have felt right had the two sides been ready to break the bank immediately after breaking the proverbial bread. If it had been as easy as we were being led to believe prior to his holdout, I’d have spent more time trying to find a catch than the Saints’ offense when Michael Thomas wasn’t the intended target last season. Therefore, in the sense that some of Mickey Loomis' funny money was necessary in the making of a milestone extension, the extra time it took to get signed, sealed, and delivered really reinforced the belief that Michael Thomas is the perfect Saint, as he basically reflects the near-stubborn confidence of the front office that just rewarded it.
Please allow me a 50 mile head-start before telling him I said so, but Michael Thomas isn’t the best wide receiver in the National Football League. What he is, however, is close enough to that crown to quite easily justify leveraging the Saints’ over-reliance on his efforts in the passing game into an amount of zeros previously unmatched amongst offensive players that don’t wear a different color jersey at this time of year. What he might lack in game-breaking ability he makes up for in the proficiency of his efficiency. Never mind keeping happy the go-to guy that’s helped a first ballot HOFer age gracefully as he looks to add another ring to his finger before waving goodbye to the game. Think it might matter that when Drew Brees inevitably rides off into the sunset that his replacement will be lucky enough to throw to a reliable playmaker who is such a guarantee to catch everything thrown in his general vicinity that it makes you believe he can't possibly come as advertised without there being some tomfoolery in the fine print?
Historical precedent might say that paying top-dollar for receivers doesn’t result in a high level of organizational success, but all that history serves as to a player as profoundly prideful as Michael Thomas is a challenge...
We're talking about someone who is so self-motivated that I wouldn't be surprised if his biggest rival was his mirror. Someone who relies just as much, if not more so, on expertise as athleticism. Someone whose attitude and work ethic are infectious throughout the locker room. Position aside, Michael Thomas is the type of competitor you don't mind paying big money to because he makes everyone better and there is no amount of dollars that could pay away his undying desire to be dominant.
Of course, the Saints really had no choice but to pay him big money as the window to win a championship is closing by the day and they certainly weren't doing so without #13 on the field drawing attention and bullying open passing windows for Drew Brees. Still, the concerns that come with paying a premium for a pass-catcher aren't as worrisome when said pass-catcher has a chip on his shoulder than even surgery couldn’t remove and fully bought into a cohesive culture long before his annual salary allowed him to buy any damn thing he pleases.
The Torch of New Orleans' Sports Could Soon be up for a Passing if Drew Brees' Gift to Zion Williamson Is Any Indication
I don't want to hate too hard on Anthony Davis here. After all, in many ways, him becoming a villain in New Orleans after spending year and year personally flourishing on a floundering team that greatly needed a reality check has inherently made Zion Williamson all the more galvanizing to a city that might soon be in need of another "savior". Rich Paul depositing that reality check by trying to...ahem...Klutch the Pelicans by the balls mid-season really woke the front office up to the fact that their franchise was largely seen as a farce.
More importantly, it presumably inspired the organizational overhaul that got kickstarted with the hiring of an accomplished exec like David Griffin and got put into overdrive by some prosperous ping pong balls. The Pelicans no longer being treated like a second-class citizen internally has made the external shift in optimism all the more possible, and it's impossible to know if things would have been so quick to change if not for the embarrassing public spectacle of the Anthony Davis saga.
That said, while also taking into consideration the imprisonment of the moment, the aura surrounding this 1st overall selection as opposed to that of his premier predecessor just feels so much different. Anthony Davis both was and is a transcendent talent in his own right, but as the forward-facing ambassador for a long-suffering franchise and the city they call home, Zion Williamson appears to have a Drew Brees-lite type "it" factor.
Lord willing, the circumstances surrounding the arrival of the current torch-carrier will never again be replicated, as his impact was unimpeachable for reasons far beyond a resurgence in sport. However, I don't think #9 is merely "passing it on", figuratively speaking, because he's on his last leg as an elite arm in the NFL or because he received strict instructions to go out of his way to be overly complimentary to make the newest member of a tight-knit community feel welcome. I'm probably unwrapping far too much from a gift that required no ripping or tearing. Still, if I can see that Zion Williamson has the rare mix of personality, potential, and magnetism that can make him a larger-than-life figure both on and off the court then surely so does the regional diplomat of a future HOF quarterback that implied as much in a message that, in an already large frame, made mention of an even bigger picture.
I don't know that the Pelicans can ever come anywhere close to reaching a Saints-like level of importance in New Orleans, as Sundays are basically a cult-like spiritual experience in and around the parish that lays claim to the insanely excitable church that is the SuperDome. However, their stars might soon have the capability to shine somewhat close to as brightly throughout the city and that alone would be a massive shift in the right direction for what's been, until recently, a red-headed stepchild of a professional basketball team.
The Saints Sound Willing to Pay Top-Dollar to Keep Michael Thomas Happy, As They Know Better Than Anyone That He's Not Someone You Want to Make Mad
Money. If you've been paying any attention whatsoever to Michael Thomas' social media presence, two themes were mistakable. The first being an unrelenting adoration of all things New Orleans, and the second was...you guessed it...money. After both statistically and aggressively proving every team that passed on him wrong, multiple times over, a higher grade of fuel was needed to keep accelerating his eternally dissatisfied drive to remain dominant, and what motivator throws more gas on a competitive fire than money?
Unfortunately, being on an insatiable search to secure the bag meant that the adversary most likely to become the target of Michael Thomas' immutable irritability was the franchise for which he has become an emotional leader. For that reason, this surprise that Mickey Loomis and New Orleans Saints are, for the first time in a long time, more than willing to break the bank on a skill position is a pleasant one that serves as precautionary damage control to what could have pretty easily become a distraction.
The wide receiver that proved, time and time again, that you can't guard him has earned a payday unprecedented at his position, and giving Michael Thomas the ability to flex on every last one of his peers by offering him what he earned is the best way to keep his eyes laser-focused on a much more elusive prize. The thing that made him so great, with that being hyper-competitiveness, is also one of the only things that could have caused a rift in an otherwise cohesive culture if he, rightfully or wrongfully, felt disrespected within his own organization. Said organization appears ready to reinforce what's been an insanely productive relationship in approximately 100 million different ways, and the negotiating table was exponentially more likely to be the place where it went awry than the football field or the locker room.
Now, I do have a slight hesitancy towards setting the market for a pass catcher when they haven't proven to be a time-honored piece to the championship puzzle, but Michael Thomas is the type of irreplaceable playmaker that can help ease an inevitable transition from an elite quarterback. He's a prominent member of a young, talented core, and if the Saints are going to keep open their window after they, Lord willing, send Drew Brees off into the sunset with a second Super Bowl then they are going to need to both retain and lean heavily on said core.
To put it another way, I can promise you that this implication that a deal is all but done sits well Teddy Bridgewater, so it stands to reason that it should also set well with the fans who expect to see him starting under center sooner rather than later. Michael Thomas has proven too money not to be paid handsomely, and doing so now should keep happy a guy who, as opposing corners can attest, you certainly don't want to see mad.