My dream life used to be one thing: sports journalist. But after an unexpected layoff, I saw God had a different (and better) plan. I live by the motto, "Seize the day" (I've had epilepsy since I was 14) … So remember, changing careers does not mean you've failed. Let's persevere, live joyfully and serve God first.
On a new episode of Black and Gold Rush, you’ll meet Joseph James, whose first client at his dog training business, Professional K9 Solutions, was someone New Orleans Saints know well – Zach Strief.
You’ll hear how Joseph became the “unofficial dog trainer of the New Orleans Saints” thanks largely to Zach Strief and Senio Kelemete. A major theme throughout the episode is the power of relationships. The Saints welcomed Joseph and his family, and when Joseph’s wife died of cancer in 2019, several players attended her funeral and others sent well-wishes, including Mrs. Gayle Benson.
But Joseph’s story doesn’t end in tragedy. He and host Rachel Jones discuss how he’s coaching others to understand their purpose in life even if they’re experiencing crushing pain. This is a wide-ranging episode that touches on grief, loss, love, relationships, and yes, also a lighthearted look at some of your favorite Saints dogs from Sean Payton to Drew Brees and much more.
“Black and Gold Rush is awesome and authentic, and I can’t wait for more.”<— If that sounds like you, please rate and review the show! —> It’s easy – scroll to the bottom on Apple Podcasts, tap to rate out of 5 stars, and select “Write a Review.” Then let me know what you loved most about the episode!
How many New Orleans Saints fans struggled to sleep Sunday night? I had so many thoughts running through my head, mostly about how I didn’t want it to end this way. Not again, and certainly not for Drew Brees.
And when they watch the tape of the 30-20 loss to a Bucs team they beat twice before, they’ll realize the ingredients for winning football present in those victories were inexplicably absent Sunday. Brees threw three interceptions in a game for the first time since 2016, Tampa Bay ran 35 times for 127 yards, and the Bucs capitalized with 21 points off Saints turnovers.
Add it all up, and it’s not at all the way a first-ballot Hall of Famer wanted to see his career potentially end. This was the year – Super Bowl or bust. But instead, the Saints are the first team ever to win 49 regular season games over a four-year span and not reach the Super Bowl.
Yes, we were robbed in the 2018-19 season, but Brees is such a competitor that he truly believed he could thrive and bring the Saints back to championship glory one more time. It just didn’t happen – he missed time with injuries and the Saints generally rallied in his absence (8-1 without Brees).
But the bottom line is the Saints AS A TEAM couldn’t get it done in the playoffs with two consecutive disappointing exits on their home field. I emphasize “as a team” because Sunday’s loss is not on one player. I saw causes for concern against the Bears, and sure enough, Tampa Bay took advantage, scoring 17 unanswered points after Jared Cook’s fumble when the Saints led 20-13.
It’s been a privilege to watch his career unfold in New Orleans, celebrate a Vince Lombardi Trophy a decade ago, and see him embrace this city with open arms the past 15 years. I guess that’s why I had to fight back tears seeing those images and video of the Brees family on the field last night.
Thanks for the memories, Drew. There are too many too count. You’re one of a kind, and New Orleans loves you. Forever.
It still counts as a win – the win that kept the New Orleans Saints’ season alive – but if you’re a Saints fan like me, you might be thinking, “It shouldn’t have been that hard.”
Sean Payton receiving a postgame slime bath courtesy of Nickelodeon seemed like a fitting ending to the Saints’ ugly playoff victory that eliminated the Chicago Bears, 21-9. But as I left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with my dad – thrilled we got to attend a game in person together this crazy season – we couldn’t help but hope the Saints have more in the tank than they showed, especially on offense, for the Divisional round vs. Tampa Bay.
Their season sweep of the Bucs, including a 38-3 prime-time demolition Nov. 8, should give them plenty of inspiration. But Tom Brady has never lost to the same team three teams in a season in his career. Will it happen at the hands of Drew Brees and the Saints Sunday, Jan. 17, in their first-ever playoff showdown? It’s certainly possible.
Here are my top 3 reasons for optimism (and a couple causes for concern) after the Bears game:
Reasons for Optimism
Harris was an incredible offensive asset, making contributions when it felt sluggish otherwise, leading the team with 7 catches (on 7 targets) for 83 yards. Kamara started to find his groove in the second half – you just had the sense that he wanted the ball after being sidelined due to COVID-19 last week. The one person the Saints really missed on the injury front would have to be defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Without their sack leader, they struggled to consistently pressure QB Mitchell Trubisky, sacking him only once and forcing no turnovers. Hopefully they get him back next week, along with receiver Tre’Quan Smith to provide another offensive weapon.
Third-down conversions. The Saints dominated time of possession 38:58-21:02 and ran 75 plays to the Bears’ 49. Chicago didn’t convert its first 3rd down conversion until the 2-minute warning of the fourth quarter, finishing 1-for-10 (10%) and 0-for-1 on 4th downs. The Saints, conversely, were 11-of-17 on third down conversions (64.7%), sustaining two long touchdown drives, though they were aided by nine Chicago penalties – five resulting in Saints first downs. Don’t count on that kind of help from the Bucs in the next do-or-die showdown.
Dominant defense. I would’ve liked to see a takeaway or two and more than one sack, but overall the defense did its job Sunday when the offense was floundering early. No, it wasn’t a perfect performance – Chicago’s Javon Wims had a wide-open touchdown fall right through his hands when the score was only 7-0, and a touchdown on the game’s final play didn’t exactly feel great – but more importantly, the Saints shut down one of the Bears’ big weapons in RB David Montgomery (just 31 yards on 12 carries). Now the pass rush must get to Brady next week and force him into bad throws. The Saints have already intercepted him five times this season – the playoffs are a perfect time to add more!
Reasons for Concern
If this sounds like a pattern, you’re right. Hill has fumbled 10 times this season, one of the issues with his game we’ve noticed. New Orleans narrowly escaped another turnover against the Bears when a Brees interception was overturned by replay. The Saints made Tom Brady pay for his mistakes in the season sweep so far. Seems to me that this team will go as far as the defense will take it.
Kicking game. Wil Lutz missed yet another field goal Sunday, hooking a 50-yard attempt wide right indoors. He’s now 22-of-27 on the season after he started 18-of-19. Playoff games so often come down to special teams, so the Saints can’t afford to have question marks at kicker. Remember when Lutz drilled the 58-yarder at home to beat Houston in the 2019 season opener? The Saints need that kind of confidence in their special teams unit to make virtually any kick, especially if they advance and have to travel in the playoffs.
We can stop simulating playoff scenarios now – the New Orleans Saints’ “Super Wild Card Weekend” matchup is official. The Chicago Bears are coming to town, a foe they faced earlier this season and escaped with a 26-23 overtime win at Soldier Field.
It’s the first-ever NFC matchup featuring No. 2 vs. No. 7 seeds in this expanded playoff format, and many Saints fans might be having thoughts like, “How is this fair? If this was any other year, we’d be sitting pretty with a first-round bye (formerly granted to the top two teams in each conference).”
But these are the rules. Hey, look on the bright side – Alvin Kamara has a better chance of returning from COVID-19 since the game is Sunday at 3:40 p.m., if he meets all league protocols. However, he cannot practice or be with the team before Sunday. But it’s straight up impressive how Sean Payton and the Saints plug and play no matter who’s been unavailable at various points this season, from offensive stalwarts to defensive playmakers:
We’ll keep a close eye on if Kamara can return for Sunday and build on his career-high 1,688 scrimmage yards, as well as when Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington and Trey Burton return – they are expected back this week. Drew Brees was sacked twice Sunday, but he put together some great throws, including a highlight-reel catch by undrafted free agent pickup Marquez Callaway, and most importantly, zero interceptions.
You get an interception, you get an interception…..: The Saints’ turnover margin improved to +9 with five interceptions by five different players (Malcolm Jenkins, Grant Haley, Marshon Lattimore, P.J. Williams, Ken Crawley) at Carolina, and they didn’t turn the ball over. That’s a recipe for winning football in the postseason. They also racked up five sacks.
Offense clicking at the right time: The Saints’ offense was balanced in their final regular season game – 30 runs for 156 yards & 32 passes for 191 yards – huge especially if they have to travel in the playoffs. But let’s not look too far ahead. Against the Bears, the Saints will definitely get top receiver Michael Thomas back, and possibly even Deonte Harris. And just look the season they’ve been able to put together without their biggest offensive weapons – Brees, Kamara and Thomas have only played 10 quarters together all year – they cracked the top 5 in scoring offense for the fifth straight year.
On Sunday, WR Emmanuel Sanders praised Payton’s masterful game planning in the face of adversity.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for,” Sanders said. I’ve enjoyed being around his energy and his intellect. To me, the coach of the year.”
So can the New Orleans Saints fend off the Bears a second time this season? The Bears put themselves in playoff position with three straight wins scoring 33 points or more before landing with a thud Sunday against Green Bay, 35-16. However, they still backed into the playoffs with Arizona’s loss to the L.A. Rams – completely opposite of the Saints, who are gaining momentum.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the Bears’ season: 5-1 start, lose six straight, win three of four, with two quarterback changes sandwiched in (they’re back to Mitchell Trubisky after Nick Foles was injured in Week 10). Their three most recent wins came against struggling teams – Houston, Minnesota and Jacksonville – and the Bears are just the third team since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs after losing six in a row. Congratulations, I guess?
David Montgomery is their workhorse at running back (1,070 yards, 4.3 avg, 8 TDs), and Chicago has receiving weapons in Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney and TE Jimmy Graham, so the Saints’ defense needs to be ready to get pressure, create turnovers and force field goals in the red zone.
Back in November at Chicago, the Saints offense was just 1-of-4 in the red zone and 2-of-13 on 3rd-down conversions against the Bears defense, arguably the strength of their team. It’s worth nothing though that the scoring defenses are virtually tied, yet favor the Saints (21 ppg to 23 ppg). Wil Lutz also missed a 27-yard field goal off the right upright (though he did convert the game-winner in overtime). Bears kicker Cairo Santos, meanwhile, was a perfect 3-for-3 in field goals. Playoff games so often come down to special teams, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a clean performance in the kicking game.
As Saints fans, we’ve learned the hard way NOTHING is guaranteed in the postseason. No game is automatic. Everyone is 0-0. Time to chase another Lombardi Trophy!
I woke up very discouraged today thinking about the New Orleans Saints’ performance as their nine-game winning streak came to an alarming halt Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.
With a chance to lock up their fourth straight NFC South title, their lack of urgency was startling, and they found themselves in an insurmountable 17-0 hole at halftime. In contrast, the Eagles played smart, sound football with rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts making his first NFL start. Philadelphia is barely in the playoff hunt, but the Eagles manhandled the Saints in the trenches, won the turnover battle and were simply the better team.
Saints No Longer Control Their Own Destiny
With this 24-21 upset, the Green Bay Packers are now in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. This was exactly the position the Saints were in last season after their head-to-head loss to San Francisco and clunker to 1-7 Atlanta. So this could be their devastating clunker. But the reigning Super Bowl champions are coming to town next, and the Chiefs are riding high at 12-1 this season.
So what do the Saints focus on as they try to rebound?
Taysom Hill’s ball security. Hill has fumbled 10 times this season, losing five of them. He’s made some great throws, like Sunday’s 37-yard touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders – but the bottom line is Hill often holds the ball too long, and it showed with five sacks in Philadelphia and the interception on a screen pass attempt. This must improve regardless of whether Hill or Brees starts under center, as Kansas City (like New Orleans) has 20 takeaways this season. The Saints’ best chance to win is to keep Patrick Mahomes on the sideline as much as humanly possible.
Run defense. If Jalen Hurts was supposed to be a “warmup” for Mahomes and his plethora of weapons, the Saints failed miserably. Hurts racked up 167 passing yards and a touchdown, along with 100 rushing yards. Miles Sanders amassed 115 yards and two scores, including an 82-yard rush in the first half. The defense looked confused and off balance before halftime, allowing the Eagles to score a TD on 4th down, and their only failed red-zone attempt came on a missed field goal that limited the carnage to 17-0. The defense stiffened in the second half, even forcing a Hurts fumble late, but it wasn’t nearly enough. The Chiefs actually committed four turnovers Sunday at Miami, so the Saints defense must return to its opportunistic ways if they want to pull an upset of their own.
Kicking woes. Three missed field goals in two games for Wil Lutz is almost unheard of. And we might not be complaining about the Saints’ wasting time huddling on offense late in the fourth quarter if they only trailed by one possession instead of two. The game hadn’t gotten away from the Saints yet when Lutz missed his 45-yard kick Sunday – the defense had just stymied the Eagles on downs after an 8-minute drive. We’ll see how Sean Payton and the Saints address this in practice this week because Lutz had been so dominant early in the season, making his current slump especially discouraging.
Where Things Stand with 3 Games to Go
The Saints are in the playoffs, that’s a given. But two of their next three games are against teams in the playoff hunt – vs. Kansas City (Dec. 20, 3:25 p.m. CT), vs. Minnesota (Dec. 25, 3:30 p.m. CT) – before the season finale Jan. 3 at Carolina (Jan. 3, noon CT). All they need is one more win (or one more Tampa Bay loss) to clinch the NFC South and assure at least one home playoff game.
But the No. 1 seed is much harder now – the Saints must win out and hope for a Packers loss along the way. Green Bay’s schedule is more favorable: Dec. 19 vs. Carolina; Dec. 27 vs. Tennessee; Jan. 3 at Chicago. That’s a 19-20 (.487) combined opponent record vs. the Saints’ challenge of 22-17 (.564). Tennessee is in a dogfight with the Colts atop the AFC South, so the Titans at Packers on Sunday Night Football will be a game Saints fans could be keenly interested in.
However, the Saints can’t be happy needing help to get back to the top seed. And they have no one to blame but themselves.
There’s hardly an opponent the New Orleans Saints enjoy beating more than the NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons, especially with a chance to clinch a playoff berth. Two weeks after sacking Matt Ryan eight times in New Orleans, the Saints escaped Atlanta with their eighth sweep of the “Dirty Birds” since 2006, after a 21-16 victory that was entirely too close for comfort – though if you stop to think about it, it shouldn’t have been that close.
The Saints were ahead 21-9 early in the fourth quarter. The defense hadn’t allowed a touchdown in 14 straight quarters and had just forced a Matt Ryan fumble at the Atlanta 18-yard line. So Hill and the offense had a chance to pad their lead with at least a field goal. A touchdown might have put the game out of reach the way the defense was dominating yet again.
But instead, trying to avoid a sack, Hill fumbled the ball away – and the Falcons marched down the field 85 yards for a touchdown. How amazing it would have been to keep Atlanta out of the end zone for both games! But getting the win was far more important, as the defense had to step up twice more to finish it off – again in the red zone and finally on a Hail Mary as time expired.
The Saints haven’t to win a heart attack-style game since a 3-point win at Chicago way back on Nov. 1. So what 3 things did we learn from this win that turned into a nail-biter?
Can you believe Sean Payton and the Saints are 8-0 without Drew Brees the past two seasons? Brees is eligible to return in Week 14 at Philadelphia, but it’s certainly not definite. The Eagles are in an identity crisis, so I’d say let Hill go one more week, and focus on a potential Brees return for the marquee matchup Dec. 20 against the 11-1 Kansas City Chiefs. The Saints will need their full arsenal if they want to win that one.
Great defense, especially in the red zone where the Falcons were just 1-for-4, is what you need to win on the road, in case Green Bay overtakes the Saints for the No. 1 seed. Sunday’s win gives the Saints a 23-7 road mark in regular season games since 2017 (credit my friend Mike Detillier for that one!). For a team whose hallmark is winning at home, that’s pretty darn good!
Keep up the ground attack. I watched Melvin Gordon and the Denver Broncos run all over the Chiefs for 179 yards in the Sunday night game and thought, “This is the recipe for beating Kansas City – keep Patrick Mahomes on the sideline.” Denver just failed to score enough points to get the job done. The Saints meanwhile rushed 36 times for 207 yards Sunday at Atlanta, with Alvin Kamara leading the pack with 88 yards and a score, and they are 7th in the NFL with 140.8 rushing yards per game. If they can dominate time of possession with a balanced attack like they did Sunday (36:54-23:06), and succeed in the red zone, that’s a recipe for winning in the postseason.
Given Hill’s rushing ability and the Falcons’ strength against the run (ranked 6th entering Week 11) and their porous passing defense (31st in the NFL), we knew both teams would bring their best game plans to this historically intense division rivalry.
What we didn’t know was how relentlessly the Saints defense would pressure Matt Ryan and make it look like it was his first NFL start. New Orleans feasted on eight sacks (three by Cam Jordan) and two interceptions and limited the Falcons to 2-of-14 on 3rd-down conversions, keeping the visiting Dirty Birds out of the end zone in a 24-9 victory. Coupled with Green Bay’s loss at Indianapolis, the Saints are now in sole possession of the NFC’s top spot at 8-2 as they ride a seven-game winning streak into Thanksgiving.
Remember when New Orleans was 1-2 after falling flat to the Packers in a fanless Mercedes-Benz Superdome? That 37-30 loss feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Now I’ll be the first to say many of the Saints’ wins have been downright ugly, but their defense the past three games has been nothing short of outstanding. Let’s look at the numbers:
Give credit to Dennis Allen for suffocating Tom Brady & the Bucs, the 49ers and now the Falcons. The Saints trailed against both San Francisco and Atlanta, but again they were resilient without Drew Brees at the helm. Their star quarterback will be out at least two more games with 11 rib fractures and a punctured lung, and I’m of the opinion the Saints should let Brees recover until their marquee matchup Dec. 20 against Patrick Mahomes and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs – the next time they’ll be in the Dome after three straight road contests.
Taysom Hill didn’t play perfectly Sunday with some passes badly underthrown and a lost fumble for the second straight game. His stats won’t pop off the charts either (18-of-23 passing for 233 yards with two rushing touchdowns). But with the way the Saints defense is playing, Hill doesn’t need to be perfect – he just needs to build on Sunday’s performance in the next three games against opponents that are mediocre at best:
Nov. 29, 3:05 p.m. CT: at Broncos (4-6)
Dec. 6, noon CT: at Falcons (3-7)
Dec. 13, 3:25 p.m. CT: at Eagles (3-6-1)
So with six games left in the regular season, the Saints just have to keep winning and they’ll have a chance to lock up the No. 1 seed and the only first-round bye in the new playoff format. It’s all there for the taking. They just have to remain resilient.
The New Orleans Saints’ 38-3 victory Sunday night at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a demolition of epic proportions. It reminded me of the Nov. 30, 2009 game against the Patriots when Bill Belichick actually pulled Tom Brady late in the game because the Saints were so in command.
But that was then.
This game was arguably more critical because control of the NFC South was on the line.
The Saints had rather quietly won four straight games entering the showdown. Drew Brees and Brady were wrestling for the NFL’s all-time lead in passing touchdowns. The Bucs were sporting one of the NFL’s best defenses. But six days after Tampa Bay escaped the New York Giants’ MetLife Stadium with a two-point win, fighting to the final snap, the Saints stormed into Raymond James Stadium and asserted firm control.
Here are some other reasons the Saints put on a performance that fans will remember for a long time:
2. Winning in the trenches. Every time you turned around, it seemed like Brady’s offensive line was helping him off the turf. Yes, starting left guard Ali Marpet was out with a concussion, but three sacks, nine QB hits, and pressures on 46% of his dropbacks is impressive for the Saints defense to build on. Not to mention holding the Bucs to 1 of 9 on 3rd down conversions and 0 of 3 on 4th downs! On the other side, the Saints rushed for 138 yards (3.7 avg) against what was the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run defense. Taysom Hill (7 carries, 54 yards) and Alvin Kamara (9 carries, 40 yards, 1 TD) led the way on the ground, and the Saints O-line committed no holding penalties!
I thought it would be a nail-biter similar to their two overtime contests, but a sheer smackdown came out of nowhere. It wasn’t perfect – let’s not forget the two fumbles – but the defense responded by forcing drives of:
3 plays, 2 yards, punt
6 plays, 20 yards, downs (the goal line stand when the Saints already led 31-0)
So the Saints passed Sunday night’s test with flying colors, and now they have some very winnable games ahead of them, starting with two straight home games against the 49ers & Falcons. A fourth straight NFC South title would be unprecedented, but with a sweep of Brady’s Bucs, it’s officially the Saints’ race to lose.