Drew Brees’ Exclusive with Fletcher Mackel, Plus Saints’ Glaring Needs 1 and 1A

This week on Black and Gold Rush, WDSU-TV sports anchor/reporter Fletcher Mackel joins me for another great New Orleans Saints conversation. Fletcher and I both were born and raised in New Orleans, so we talk about our early years following the Saints, even before Drew Brees and Sean Payton arrived to resurrect the franchise from years of futility.

Now though, the Saints face an uncertain offseason for many reasons, and Fletcher just had an exclusive interview with QB Drew Brees after his retirement. 

He and I explore the top takeaways from that interview, and discuss whether Jameis Winston will seize his opportunity at redemption and earn the starting role in 2021.  It’s been a while – try 20 years – since the Saints had a legitimate quarterback battle, but we both remember it!

Plus, Fletcher outlines what he believes are the Saints’ glaring needs “1 & 1a” – cornerback and starting linebacker.  Stay tuned for the weekly random round (starts at 26:50!)

LISTEN FOR THESE QUOTES:

  • (5:28) “I don’t know what life was life without a twin or somebody else there. Now as an adult, it’s definitely a unique concept because we work together and we do the same thing. So that’s a bit more of a novelty than just growing up as a twin.”
  • (8:16) “That was something that was a really great part of the interview was [Drew Brees] talking about New Orleans not just as a party city, but as a place that you can start a business and raise a family. As somebody like you who’s from here, those are the things you want to hear because you want to be proud of New Orleans.”
  • (10:39) “Look, Tony Romo prepares, but everybody always jokes – he’s calling out plays and dissecting plays before they even happen because he understands coverages and what’s going on. I think you’re going to see something very similar from Drew Brees, and I think he’s going to be a pretty instant success in the broadcast booth because his football IQ is through the roof, he’s personable and smart, and he’s not showing up to wing it on Saturdays.”
  • (16:05) “Talking about Jameis is two-fold to me. Jameis the human being is one thing – maturing, trying to become a better person, getting past his past transgressions.  Jameis the player is another thing. Is he going to be a turnover machine like we saw at Florida State or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? I think the Saints are going to put him in a role reminiscent of what we saw with Teddy Bridgewater, where Teddy was a game manager for those five games.”

  • (18:46) “Do I think that Sean Payton will take more shots down the field with Jameis Winston as his quarterback? Absolutely. Because he has the ability to do it. … I think the Saints are going to be very game-plan heavy from game to game.”

  • (23:00) “As far as the glaring needs, I look at two as 1 and 1a: starting cornerback and starting linebacker next to Demario Davis.”

  • (26:08) “Going back to the Billy Joe Hobert & Billy Joe Tolliver days, which were some dark days in Saints history, it’s been 20 years since we’ve had an all-out quarterback battle.”

CONNECT WITH US / LINKS MENTIONED:

Fletcher Mackel Twitter

Fletcher’s Exclusive Interview with Drew Brees

Watch WDSU-TV online

Rachel Jones Twitter

Rachel Jones Instagram

SUBSCRIBE, RATE AND REVIEW:

“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!

Jameis or Taysom? Larry Holder Talks Saints QBs, Roster Depth & NFL Draft

Let’s face it – it’s difficult to imagine the New Orleans Saints without Drew Brees. 

His arrival when New Orleans was at its lowest point after Hurricane Katrina lifted up the city and forever transformed the Saints into perennial competitors.  But with his retirement now official, Sean Payton and the Saints must decide on their new quarterback, and the team will look noticeably different moving forward.

In this week’s podcast, columnist Larry Holder of The Athletic joins host Rachel Jones for an insightful, upbeat conversation on where the Saints go from here.  A battle will unfold between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, but the Saints have plenty more unanswered questions.

What are the highest priorities in the 2021 NFL Draft?  Mickey Loomis has said the Saints won’t be major players in free agency, but that could change in an instant.  They are among the teams expressing interest in cornerback Richard Sherman, for instance, and CB is an obvious need.

Larry and Rachel also discuss their common backgrounds as LSU graduates and Daily Reveille writers, plus it’s the debut of the Random Round on Black and Gold Rush! Stay tuned until the end (25:40) for quick questions & answers that will peel back the curtain even further with each guest. 

LISTEN FOR THESE QUOTES:

  • (8:19) “Let’s go back to that day – We didn’t know if [Drew Brees] was going to pan out because he’s coming off of the shoulder surgery.  He was ready to go to Miami, and they did not medically clear him, and the Saints did.”
  • (9:33) “Everyone thought Reggie Bush was going to be the savior, and then the legend of Breesus comes up. It’s definitely a kinship where they grew together and obviously led to the most significant success in the history of this organization by a landslide.”
  • (12:26) “People are looking at it and rightfully so, that it’s going to be Jameis vs. Taysom. It’s also bizarre for Saints fans that one of the people competing was a division rival for so long, and so there’s an uneasiness there. And then there’s an uneasiness with Taysom Hill, even though he went 3-1 this past year, it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to the eye.”
  • (13:36) “Everybody’s going to be sitting out there jotting down every throw. It’s going to be daily stats coming out on these guys. I’m not saying fans are ready for a change, but I think this is kind of refreshing. You knew a change was going to come, and so I think there’s actually an excitement to see what’s next with Drew Brees at 42 retiring from football.”

  • (19:13) “These last few years when the Saints were really good, it’s because they had quality across the board. Now they have a really top-heavy team of superstar players.”

  • (21:48) “You have to adjust your eyes. You wouldn’t have to worry about Janoris Jenkins because he’s a good cornerback, well you’re gonna worry about what’s going on over there now … and of course you’re gonna worry at quarterback. So we are going to have to program our brains a little differently and say if the Saints get into the playoffs, this is good.”

  • (24:42) “Go to Vegas, put money down that I’m going to put a cornerback in their (draft) class. They’re going to have to go young there because young also means inexpensive.”

  • (25:40) Random Round)

CONNECT WITH US / LINKS MENTIONED:

The Athletic New Orleans (*Subscribe for $1/month*)

Larry Holder Twitter

Larry Holder’s Saints Mock Draft 1.0

Drew Brees Tales: 15 years of anecdotes on the Saints legend, AKA ‘a truthful Uncle Rico’

The Saints may have stars, but the middle tier of their roster is falling apart

Rachel Jones Twitter

Rachel Jones Instagram

SUBSCRIBE, RATE AND REVIEW:

“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!

New Orleans Saints’ Loss at Eagles Deflating for Many Reasons

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.

New Orleans Saints Playoff Bound for Fourth Straight Year

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.

new orleans saints atlanta falcons playoff berth.jpgAs they watch the game film, the Saints, now 10-2 and still atop the NFC, will know exactly why the Falcons hung around. They committed 10 penalties for 79 yards, allowing the Falcons five first downs by penalty.

And despite backup QB Taysom Hill’s overall excellent day, including his first two career touchdown passes, ball security and taking time off the clock are paramount when you’re protecting a 12-point lead:

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?

Taysom Hill is learning every week.  Sunday was the third straight win with Hill as starter, and he threw his first touchdown passes in four years - to Tre’Quan Smith and Jared Cook - to propel the Saints.  He finished 27-of-37 for 232 yards (105 to Michael Thomas), no interceptions but was sacked twice and lost that crucial fumble.  He also used his legs to rush for 83 yards, including a 43-yard run down the sideline. -
  • Taysom Hill is learning every week. Sunday was the third straight win with Hill as starter, and he threw his first touchdown passes in four years – to Tre’Quan Smith and Jared Cook – to propel the Saints. He finished 27-of-37 for 232 yards (105 to Michael Thomas), no interceptions but was sacked twice and lost that crucial fumble. He also used his legs to rush for 83 yards, including a 43-yard run down the sideline.

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.

The Saints defense is the main reason they’ve clinched a playoff spot.  Apparently Sean Payton warned his players not to get too caught up in the hype, pulling the old stinky cheese in the locker trick, as Pro Football Talk reported.  Dennis Allen’s defense has put up some incredible numbers in the past five games, allowing just two touchdowns and 44 total points (8.8 ppg), and they’re up to 36 sacks on the year (T-3rd in the NFL).   -
  • The Saints defense is the main reason they’ve clinched a playoff spot. Apparently Sean Payton warned his players not to get too caught up in the hype, pulling the old stinky cheese in the locker trick, as Pro Football Talk reported. Dennis Allen’s defense has put up some incredible numbers in the past five games, allowing just two touchdowns and 44 total points (8.8 ppg), and they’re up to 36 sacks on the year (T-3rd in the NFL).

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.

New Orleans Saints Define Resilience with Defense, Taysom Hill

Some New Orleans Saints fans were nervous when news broke that “Swiss Army knife” Taysom Hill would start for the injured Drew Brees Sunday against Atlanta - his first-ever start at quarterback.  - Some New Orleans Saints fans were nervous when news broke that “Swiss Army knife” Taysom Hill would start for the injured Drew Brees Sunday against Atlanta – his first-ever start at quarterback.

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:

 8.3 points per game allowed1 total touchdown allowed7 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries13 sacksOpponents’ combined 3rd down efficiency: 10-of-39 (25.6%) -
  • 8.3 points per game allowed

  • 1 total touchdown allowed

  • 7 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries

  • 13 sacks

  • Opponents’ combined 3rd down efficiency: 10-of-39 (25.6%)

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.

New Orleans Saints’ Ultimate Statement Win

AP+Photo

There’s no other way to slice it.

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.

The statistics are eye-popping.

New Orleans won the time of possession battle 40:04 to 19:56 and forced Brady into three more interceptions in the worst loss of his career in terms of margin.

It’s also the first time ever he’s been swept by a division rival (sorry, Tom, no more Jets to blow out in the NFC South).

The Saints defense – yes, the Saints defense – has five of Brady’s seven interceptions this season, and they pressured him relentlessly, including three sacks (two by Trey Hendrickson, who now is No. 3 in the NFL with 7.5 sacks.

Here are some other reasons the Saints put on a performance that fans will remember for a long time:

12 different receivers caught a pass!  The Saints were finally full strength on offense with the returns of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but the fact that 11 different players in the first half alone had receptions showed you that everyone came to play.  The Saints controlled the clock with 37 runs and 29 passes, and Brees added four more touchdowns for a 564-561 career lead over Brady, for now. -
  1. 12 different receivers caught a pass! The Saints were finally full strength on offense with the returns of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but the fact that 11 different players in the first half alone had receptions showed you that everyone came to play. The Saints controlled the clock with 37 runs and 29 passes, and Brees added four more touchdowns for a 564-561 career lead over Brady, for now.

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!

3. Saints thrive as underdogs!  Didn’t you just have a feeling when the whole SNF pregame team picked the Bucs that the Saints might shock the world? -

3. Saints thrive as underdogs! Didn’t you just have a feeling when the whole SNF pregame team picked the Bucs that the Saints might shock the world?

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.