5 Takeaways from a Wild NFL Week 18

For the first time since 2016, the New Orleans Saints won’t be in the postseason. It’s a tough way to end a season where the Saints always seemed to have their backs against the wall.

From Hurricane Ida, to COVID adversity, to too many injuries to count, not many people expected the Saints to be in the hunt until the end. But the Saints-Falcons season finale turned into an unexpected storyline of Week 18. If the Saints won and 49ers lost at the Rams, the fighters from the Big Easy would earn a trip to sunny L.A. for Super Wild Card Weekend.

Only half that puzzle came true.

The Saints’ season ended on a high note with a 30-20 victory over the Dirty Birds – their sixth win on the road this season. But when Matthew Stafford’s overtime interception landed in the waiting arms of 49ers rookie Ambry Thomas, New Orleans’ locker room had “a hollow feeling,” QB Trevor Siemian said.

Even more annoying was the Rams won the NFC West anyway despite the loss, thanks to the Arizona Cardinals’ continuing freefall at home, where they’re just 3-5.

It’s onto the offseason for New Orleans, reflecting on tremendous progress in year 1 without Drew Brees.

Fans won’t forget their heroic efforts on defense either, especially in the season sweep of Tampa Bay. But home losses to the Giants (4-13) and Falcons (7-10) are ones that got away. And don’t forget the 23-21 Titans loss back on Nov. 14. If the Saints made their extra points, that could’ve been a win too.

New Orleans Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (22) celebrates his interception against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
  1. The Raiders and Chargers didn’t tie! I only caught the fourth quarter of this insane game – after the 49ers won, I confess I poured myself a large glass of wine, had dinner with my husband, and forgot about football while I let lingering sadness pass that the Saints’ season was over.

    Looking at Twitter, I think I’m in the minority, but I’m so glad the Raiders didn’t tie the Chargers. From the Raiders’ perspective, isn’t it more satisfying to prevent your division rival from going to the postseason AND be a higher seed in the playoffs? Chargers coach Brandon Staley is getting a lot of heat for taking a timeout, but if the Chargers would’ve stuffed the Raiders on 3rd down and made the winning field goal longer than 47 yards, or maybe Daniel Carlson misses it, then we’re having a different conversation. Bill Barnwell breaks down the wild ending nicely – the Raiders had ZERO intention of settling for a tie on purpose, and I’m glad it didn’t end that way. (As I know Pittsburgh Steelers fans are, too!) Wasn’t it famed coach Herm Edwards who once said, “You play to win the game?!”

2. Colts squander golden opportunity – for second straight week. What’s happened in Indianapolis?? Jonathan Taylor was looking like an MVP candidate, and all the Colts had to do to punch their postseason ticket was beat 2-14 Jacksonville, after failing to beat the Raiders at home in Week 17. They were favored by 15.5 points – and the Jaguars wanted next year’s No. 1 overall pick. Cakewalk, right?


Talk about a clown show – the Colts lost at Jacksonville for the seventh straight time, fell to 0-7 when Taylor doesn’t reach 100 yards, and find themselves OUT of the playoffs. Oh, and the Jaguars clinched the No. 1 pick anyway when Detroit beat Green Bay Sunday. Ouch.

QB Carson Wentz was brought in to win big games, and he failed to deliver. The Jaguars sacked him six times and forced two turnovers, which they converted into 10 points. Big decisions to make in Indy, and plenty of blame to go around.

3. Black Monday off and running … Part of NFL Week 18 coming and going means Black Monday, when many NFL coaches and general managers are inevitably, or surprisingly, fired. One head-scratcher I woke up to today was Dolphins coach Brian Flores getting the boot.

It wouldn’t have seemed too difficult to imagine, say, midway through this season when Miami was 1-7. But the Dolphins closed the season winning eight of their final nine games and stayed in the playoff race until Week 17, swept the Patriots, and had winning seasons in two of Flores’ three seasons (including 10-6 in 2020 when they narrowly missed the playoffs).

Owner Stephen Ross made it clear he’s confident in QB Tua Tagovailoa, who finished 7th in the NFL in completion percentage this season while struggling to stay healthy. Ross harped on communication and collaboration in announcing the coaching change – remember the Dolphins were a team mentioned in Deshaun Watson rumors – so perhaps that influenced the decision. Either way, expect Flores to be a popular name in the hiring circles this offseason.

Who else has been fired? No real surprises – Broncos coach Vic Fangio, Bears coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. Meanwhile Giants coach Joe Judge is still employed (until Tuesday, when Judge was canned after just two seasons). ESPN’s Ryan Clark teed off on the Giants’ “despicable display of football.” As if I needed another reason to be angry about the Saints’ loss to them in October.


4. It’s playoff time. I’m all aboard the AFC train this postseason. I always like to see my fellow LSU Tigers Joe Burrow & Ja’Marr Chase do well … so I’m on the Bengals vs. the Raiders Saturday. I also like the No. 1-seed Titans, mostly because they’re playing the shadow of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, whom they waxed 27-3 in Week 7. How did defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons not get picked for the Pro Bowl? 8.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, and 39 quarterback pressures. If Simmons and the Titans have anything to say about it, they’ll have other plans that day.

Super Wild Card Weekend Schedule

Courtesy of NFL.com

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Fight Like Luke Siegel During Football Season (And Every Day)

Every time Drew Brees fired up the New Orleans Saints’ pregame huddle with his words and his inspiration, it was something special to see.

Wow! That 2019 season opener against the Texans, a heart-stopping Monday night victory, brings back memories.

While we won’t see Brees in those huddles or orchestrating 2-minute drills anymore, he recently gave a powerful speech at the funeral of 15-year-old Luke Siegel, that I wanted to highlight as we usher in the 2021 NFL season.

Luke was a young boy I had the privilege of meeting for just a minute through my computer screen after I interviewed his father, Tim Siegel, for my 10th podcast episode earlier this year. Brees was Luke’s hero and the Saints his favorite team – a bond he shared with his father that I also share with my own dad.

As Tim recalled on our podcast for Brain Injury Awareness Month in March, Luke suffered a devastating injury in 2015 when a modified golf cart landed on him and his brain was deprived of oxygen for more than 7 minutes.

In the interview Tim explained how Luke motivates him to never give up. You can see that determination through the foundation he started, Team Luke Hope for Minds, to provide financial help, emotional support and education to families of children impacted by brain injuries.

Photo from Tim Siegel

Luke died Aug. 19, but his legacy will live forever. And not just in New Orleans, where Tim was born. He coached tennis at Texas Tech, so Patrick Mahomes, the Red Raiders football team & Kansas City Chiefs,

The Red Raiders attended Luke’s funeral, and Kingsbury is donating $5,000 to Team Luke Hope for Minds for every Cardinals win this season.

and former coach Kliff Kingsbury (now with the Arizona Cardinals) are prominent Team Luke ambassadors, along with many tennis players worldwide.  The Red Raiders attended Luke’s funeral, and Kingsbury is donating $5,000 to Team Luke Hope for Minds for every Cardinals win this season. -

I still remember how seeing Luke after our interview impacted me. His room was filled with New Orleans Saints paraphernalia, and I felt an instant connection to him. Tim told Luke how he’d just talked to me about Drew Brees, and I saw Luke’s tongue move, exactly the motion Tim described when he or a therapist would ask Luke, “Can you do this for Drew?” or “for the Saints?”

His fight took my breath away. Since then, I’ve been inspired to hug my loved ones tighter and not take a single day for granted. When life gets overwhelming, I also remember these 5 inspirations from Luke that Tim shared on the podcast:

  1. Find your passion.

  2. Don’t ever quit.

  3. Lean on friends, family, coaches, siblings and counselors.

  4. Make good choices.

  5. Have faith.

And you know what?  If the Saints fight like Luke this season, they might shock the experts and string together some unexpected wins. - I’ll end with some of Drew Brees’ words at Luke’s funeral, where he called him the Saints’ good luck charm.  You can see the whole video on Tim Siegel’s Twitter account:

And you know what? If the Saints fight like Luke this season, they might shock the experts and string together some unexpected wins.

I’ll end with some of Drew Brees’ words at Luke’s funeral, where he called him the Saints’ good luck charm. You can see the whole video on Tim Siegel’s Twitter account:

“Your strength and courage and your fight motivated us more than you ever could imagine. To watch the extraordinary love of your family, your father Tim, and your community as they rallied around you was truly awe-inspiring. I’m a better person for having had a chance to know you. The best of you will live in all of us for the rest of our lives.”

I agree with Drew. I’m a better person for knowing people like Luke and Tim Siegel. I’ll carry Luke close to my heart this Saints football season. May he rest in peace, and may we all fight like Luke every single day.

NFL COVID-19 Vaccine Policies Should Aim to Unite, Not Divide

I’ll never forget being in the Superdome on September 25, 2006. About 13 months after Hurricane Katrina, never was I so happy to see a Saints game with my dad.

We sat together on the 50-yard line on the visitor’s side as the Saints dominated Atlanta 23-3, in awe of the power of sports to unite us. Not just the people in our row, or the 70,000 people in the Superdome that day, but everyone in New Orleans recovering from Katrina.

But what about now? More than a year after COVID-19 upended the world as we know it, the NFL is trying to divide locker rooms rather than unite. In the league’s latest effort to force players and personnel with even a slight question about the COVID-19 vaccines, the NFL is using every tool in its toolbox to blackmail them with lost wages and potential game forfeitures this season.

The NFL recently released a memo stating if any game has to be canceled “due to an outbreak of unvaccinated players,” that club will forfeit the game. Then on top of that, players on BOTH TEAMS will lose their weekly salary. So tell me, Roger, how exactly is that fair to those that choose to get vaccinated?

This terrifies me because the NFL is essentially creating fear and division in the locker room when it should be trying to unite in 2021 after the year Americans have had. We’re seeing the unvaccinated as “second-class citizens” plot line play out already on cruise ships – I saw this Bloomberg story a few weeks ago.

Hopefully we won’t see any COVID-19 outbreaks like the Ravens or Titans had in 2020 as teams report to training camp. But remember, even with all the postponements and games played on every day of the week last season, no games were ultimately canceled in the heart of the pandemic. Most importantly, all the players emerged healthy.

Now with three safe and effective vaccines widely available, NFL Network numbers report 14 teams have 85% of players vaccinated, and it’s likely that figure will grow. So maybe this nightmarish policy won’t even be a factor. Not only do I wish that for the teams, but also because press conferences shouldn’t be dominated by questions about COVID cases or vaccination rates.

However, I’m glad some players are speaking out about it, like Deandre Hopkins, who posted this on Twitter, before deleting it:

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Then he followed it up with these two, including a quote tweet of Gary Sheffield, Jr.:

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I’m not here to argue about being pro-vaccination or anti-vaccination. This is America after all, so everyone is free to state their opinions loud and clear and exercise their medical freedom. It’s about the NFL’s refusal to follow the science and care for the people it serves. Instead they make a blanket statement in July that they’re unwilling to add an extra week to the season, so cancellations = forfeits. That’s not just draconian, it’s unnecessary.

  • Look what everyone in America and the world has endured since March 2020 when the pandemic began, especially front-line healthcare workers. Flexibility has been the name of the game for the past 17 months, adjusting to masking, social distancing, business restrictions, you name it. I’ve tried to see sports as an escape from the grind of working and studying from home, and it’s disappointing how the NFL thinks it’s so high and mighty that it can’t give its players freedom to choose whether an experimental vaccine is best for them or not. After all, these are among the healthiest people in the country, and the vaccines aren’t fully FDA-approved yet. Players like Jalen Ramsey aren’t fans of the coercion:

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  • What about players and staff who may have recovered from COVID-19? Is the NFL considering natural immunity or conducting COVID-19 antibody tests? A Cleveland Clinic study published in June revealed that vaccines do not provide additional protection to those who have already been infected – “the strongest argument for restricting vaccine administration to those who have not had the infection.”

  • Say, God forbid, a team has an outbreak this season. How will the league determine if it originated from an unvaccinated or a vaccinated player if cases involve both unvaccinated and vaccinated people? Will the NFL just pick a narrative? (Saints fans, cue the conspiracies now…) Breakthrough infections can, and do happen. And you want to talk about unfairness and resentment? Making the team that didn’t even cause an outbreak lose its game check – where’s the logic there? I’m sorry, but that’s pure fear-mongering, and players like Seattle’s DJ Reed are succumbing to the NFL’s pressure despite being wary of “long-term effects.”

Screen Shot 2021-07-24 at 2.36.59 PM.png

We also just saw Minnesota Vikings assistant coach Rick Dennison almost lose his job, reportedly after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. New Orleans Saints fans can rest assured that shouldn’t be a threat to the Saints in 2021 – back in June Sean Payton said 100% of Tier 1 and Tier 2 staff were vaccinated.

Nonetheless, the NFL is wading into extremely dangerous waters here. This issue could divide locker rooms and lead to competitive disadvantages for athletes who simply choose to exercise their rights in a different way. If a roster battle comes down to two equally talented players, but one is vaccinated and one isn’t? I can see the media drooling….

The NFL has some of the toughest athletes you’ll ever find on the planet. They fight tooth and nail, now for 17 games a season, all for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy. Some sadly suffer injuries that carry life-altering consequences – just ask Alex Smith, Ryan Shazier, or even Drew Brees, who reportedly played his final season with broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a torn rotator cuff and a torn fascia in his foot, his wife Brittany emotionally revealed on Instagram in January.

So what is the league trying to achieve here?

Legendary NFL QB Joe Theismann, who suffered a pretty gruesome leg injury in his day, just talked to Brian Kilmeade about all this (scroll down to the full interview and swipe to the 3:00 mark). When you start talking about forfeiting games and salaries, the penalty is no longer limited to just unvaccinated players. These players put themselves in real danger on the field week every week, and it’s time for the NFL to respect their freedoms once and for all – seeking unity over division.

I hope that happens, and I’ll be back in the Caesars Superdome supporting my Saints regardless. But I’m not holding my breath.

I’m Back (and Ready to Talk Football!)

Comebacks are as much a part of sports as they are a part of life.

Five years ago, I was in a professional groove hosting “Black and Gold Today” and “Talkin’ Tigers” on NOLA.com – New Orleans Saints & LSU video series with unique content for sports fans like myself.

It was a dream job connecting others to a passion I first developed when I was a young girl.  In fact when I was 12 years old, I began writing postgame Saints commentary in a spiral notebook, reflecting on what they did right and wrong on the field from week to week.  I never wavered once when people asked what I wanted to study in college – sports journalism.

I need sports in my life.  I believe we all do to some extent, whether to cheer the team we love to victory or bond through the joy of competition.   - Just look at how the Saints were a strengthening force for New Orleanians after Hurricane Katrina.  I attended the famous Saints-Falcons game when the Superdome reopened (pictured, circa 2006), and my father and I marveled at the relationship that only the Saints have with their city’s people.I need sports in my life.

I believe we all do to some extent, whether to cheer the team we love to victory or bond through the joy of competition.

Just look at how the Saints were a strengthening force for New Orleanians after Hurricane Katrina.  I attended the famous Saints-Falcons game when the Superdome reopened (pictured, circa 2006), and my father and I marveled at the relationship that only the Saints have with their city’s people.

So after three years building an audience around my NOLA.com videos, I learned I was one of many who would be laid off from the company in September 2015.  My confidence was shattered.  But that’s the turbulent state of journalism.

Dabo+Swinney+Rachel+JonesWhile I knew the decision was in no way personal, I sort of ran away from my passion instead of confronting the challenge.  My career involvement in sports since then has been volunteer-hosting the American Heart Association’s Facebook Live broadcast at the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Awards, an incredible annual event in Houston combining sports and philanthropy where I’ve been honored to bring my expertise.

RachelAdamMarried1434So what else has changed since 2015?

  • Obviously I have a different last name.  I married my husband Adam in a classic New Orleans wedding June 2, 2018, and we live in Lake Charles but visit New Orleans often, especially during football season and Mardi Gras (he actually proposed to me on St. Charles Avenue).

  • I’m also pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Florida.

  • Finally, I have battled epilepsy for 16 years since 2004, and I’m pleased to report that for the first time in nearly a decade, I am seizure-free for more than a year.

Now I’m excited to share my comeback story!  On my blog, you’ll find my take on the Saints and life as a Catholic wife finding her purpose, and I can’t wait to share my 2021 Saints offseason project, the Black & Gold Rush Podcast with you.

I’m back!