I Salute Drew Brees, As New Orleans Saints Bow Out of Playoffs Yet Again

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.

We’ll know soon enough whether Brees is really retiring – as Sean Payton said postgame, “That’s for another press conference.” But seeing Drew embrace his wife, Brittany, on the Superdome turf afterward and savor every moment with his four children, even conversing with Tom Brady, who earlier scored three touchdowns off of four Saints turnovers in a complete role reversal from their Week 9 matchup, the story seems to be written. (AP Photo)

in a complete role reversal from their Week 9 matchup, the story seems to be written. - The New Orleans Saints suffered another heartbreaking postseason end, though the game wasn’t all that close.  (AP Photo)The New Orleans Saints suffered another heartbreaking postseason end, though the game wasn’t all that close.

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.

Now one thing is absolutely certain.  Brees and Payton together have taken the Saints places they’d never been before.  Brees ranks 1st all-time in NFL history in passing yards and completions, and 2nd only to Brady in touchdown passes.  (Getty Images photo) - Now one thing is absolutely certain. Brees and Payton together have taken the Saints places they’d never been before. Brees ranks 1st all-time in NFL history in passing yards and completions, and 2nd only to Brady in touchdown passes. (Getty Images photo)

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.

New Orleans Saints Grind Out Wild Card Win to Set Up Brady-Brees Part 3

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

Saints are getting healthier.  Offensive players like Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara both scored touchdowns in their rousing returns to the lineup, but let’s not forget about WR/punt returner Deonte Harris.   -
  • Saints are getting healthier. Offensive players like Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara both scored touchdowns in their rousing returns to the lineup, but let’s not forget about WR/punt returner Deonte Harris.

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

Ball security. The Saints’ Week 17 interception-fest, racking up five picks and increasing their season turnover margin to +9 at Carolina, had them trending in the right direction.  But Chicago’s only relevant points Sunday came on a field goal directly after the Bears recovered a Taysom Hill fumble. -
  • Ball security. The Saints’ Week 17 interception-fest, racking up five picks and increasing their season turnover margin to +9 at Carolina, had them trending in the right direction. But Chicago’s only relevant points Sunday came on a field goal directly after the Bears recovered a Taysom Hill fumble.

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.

New Orleans Saints’ Ultimate Statement Win

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.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.