Monday, December 1, 2008

So at what point do Saints' fans call it quits on this season?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 6:13 PM

click to enlarge Ronde Barber Smiling

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Photo by Jonathan Bachman

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So we're back to this now, are we? This time, though, it's pretty fair to say that the Saints' playoff hopes are more than just dwindling, they're on life support. In order to have any semblance of a chance to make it to the playoffs, the Saints must definitely win their last four games AND hope that no two teams ahead of them in the standings win more than two in that same span. Those aren't the most favorable odds. Especially considering that, thus far, this season has been all-but unwatchable.

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Really, is there anything more torturous than watching your favorite team teeter around .500 all season before finally being eliminated in the last few weeks? It's not like a team that starts out hot and then collapses down the stretch (like the 2007 Detroit Lions) or one that is truly wretched all season (like the 2008 Detroit Lions), in those cases death comes quick. But to root for a team that can't take two steps forward without falling on its face; one that, every other week, follows dominating wins with truly atrocious losses; one that so clearly had the potential to be great, if only for a few missing pieces; to root for a team like that is condusive to triggering a psychotic episode.

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Yesterday's game was a microcosm of the Saints season. They were down, then up; Drew Brees was hot (two TDs, 296 passing yards) and then not (three INTs, and another that was called back); and Reggie Bush was hampered by injuries while Jeremy Shockey produced but could not help his team win. There was some brilliant play calling (the touchdown pass to Lance Moore with 33 seconds left in the first half) and there was some very questionable playcalling (the end around on fourth and short in the first quarter). Yes, the game against Tampa Bay had all the aspects of the Saints season: flashes of inconsistent brilliance sandwiched by epic failures and, ultimately, a gut-wrenching loss.

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So, where did it all go wrong? Well, if you had to bet on it, the good money would be that injuries complete derailed the Saints' season. Coach Sean Payton and his players will talk all day about how injuries are not an excuse and that they have to be ready to play no matter the consequences, but in reality, no one should expect a team to win or be consistent when pretty much the entire starting lineup save for the quarterback is injured at different points of the year. It's simple, when players get injured and miss playing time, they get rusty and lose chemistry with their teammates. When they come back in the lineup, there's no guarantee that they'll be effective (just look at how Bush, Shockey and Marques Colston played the first game they returned from injury).

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Sure, you could point out that every NFL team has to deal with injuries and that, in the end, the buck stops with Sean Payton. Fans could go on and on about the play-calling or game management or the utter lack of intensity for road games and decry that this team was doomed from the start. But, to date, this team does not have a legitimate record of infighting and nary a hint of a cancerous element (the way-overblown and media-driven drama surrounding Shockey notwithstanding). For all the devestating losses and failures this season, you have to give the Payton and his players credit for not imploding and start finger-pointing. Through it all, Payton kept his players together and never lost control of the locker room. But the fact that this team showed the character emblematic of truly great teams might be the most tragic part of the 2008 season.

And yet, hope is not all lost. If Saints fans need some sort of condolence, just remember: since the NFC South was created, last-place teams have always turned around and won the division the next season.

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