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.