Photograph by Jonathan Bachman
Perfection is hard, there's a reason that only one team in NFL history has been able to pull it off. And, despite what their record may have suggested, the Saints have been far from perfect this season. Their defense has droped into the bottom third in the league after spending the first half of the season in the top ten. The offense has fallen back into the 2008 habit of relying too heavy on Drew Brees. Near missed in Washington and Atlanta should have served as clear warnings that the Saints could yet stumble this season.
But now that the Saints have lost (a feeling Who Dat nation was all too happy to forget) by the tune of 24-17 to the Dallas Cowboys. To keep a good head about him, you have to step back and realistically asses where the team stands. First of all, it's important to note that they're 12 games above .500, with only the Colts boasting a better record. The Saints are still in control of their destiny and could still easily secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The loss exposed how injuries have affected the Saints' secondary and showed that even Drew "Cool" Brees can play like a mere mortal some times. It was a gut-check game, and it may be the best thing to happen to the Saints all season.
Keep in mind that, though Dallas has a recent history of late-season collapses, this was a (I hate to say it) talented Cowboys team with their backs to the wall. The brought their best to the field and the Saints just couldn't match them for desperation or intensity. And why should they? Dallas' future is still uncertain, the Saints have all but assured a long playoff run. And in the end, with the silly notion of a perfect season now out the window, the Saints can focus on correcting the flaws that have shown up in recent weeks and set their eyes to the real goal this season: A Super Bowl win.
But that's enough prattling about greater context, let's give out some knee-jerk analysis in the form of imaginary food:
- Who Dats: Despite having few things to cheer about for the first three quarters of the game, Saints fans kept the Dome as loud as they could muster throughout the game. Go ahead and grab yourselves a case of cold Abita and drown those sorrows.
- Marques Colston: His five receptions for 86 yards steadied an otherwise erratic offense and his ridiculous fourth-down catch on the Saints (ultimately-fruitless) final drive gave Who Dats hope for another comeback win. Now if he could only pass block and cover the Cowboys' Jason Whitten and the Saints' would have been in business.
- Jonathan Vilma - He had 10 tackles, four assists and a sack and, for long stretches of the game, seem liked the only defensive player on the field for the Saints. His missed tackle of Marion Barber at the goal line notwithstanding, Vilma's play was a key reason the Saints had any chance at the end of the game.
- Courtney Roby - In a game that had few highlights for New Orleans, his 67 yard kickoff return in the second half seemed like a turning point in the game. It wasn't, but we can't fault him for that.
- David Thomas - In place of injured Jeremy Shockey, Thomas was Brees' most reliable target catching a team-high eight passes for 77 yards. Not bat at all for the old dude that founded Wendy's.
- NFL Network - They featured the Soul Rebels brass bad in their pre-game show (they played a song that they learned the same day and rocked it out at the Blue Nile last night) and they continue to have the most entertaining game crew in the biz (I'm talking about Rich Eisen and Co., not whoever called the game. I have no idea who did that.)
- Drew Brees: As much as it pains me to put Brees here, the Saints QB had his poorest outing of the season and it cost the Saints dearly. He accounted for all three of the Saints' turnovers (an interception and two fumbles), all on drives that could have led to desperately-needed points by the Saints.
- Malcolm Jenkins: He was burned terribly by a Miles Austin double-move that led to the Cowboys' first score and, as unfair as it seems, may end up being the scapegoat for the secondary woes tonight.
- Devery Henderson: Two huge drops (including a gimme in the end zone) matched his number of catches.
- Coach Payton - He could not figure out a Dallas defense that let up 51 points in its last two games and, as he himself admitted, didn't do enough to protect Brees (notably on the final play of the game where Jerrod Bushrod was left one-on-one against a red-hot DeMarcus Ware who then sacked and stripped Brees of the ball).
- Third Downs - The Saints' offense couldn't convert them (1-of-7 on the night) and the Saints' defense couldn't get stops on them (Dallas was 8-of-15). in the end, it spelled doom for New Orleans.
- DeMarcus Ware - Aside from the fact that he completely killed the Saints' perfect season, here's another reason to hate the Dallas linebacker: he's a piss-poor tipper. A very reliable source informed me yesterday that Ware left a $50 tip on a $500 check at one of New Orleans' best, and most expensive, restaurants. That's a 10% tip from a guy who makes over $10 million a year. Class act, this one.
- Miles Austin - How dare you expose the New Orleans secondary for being an overly aggressive and depleted unit? How dare you take the air out of the Superdome with that 49-yard touchdown reception on your team's opening drive? How dare you even show up to New Orleans?
- Reggie Bush - Just as I thought I'd have to eat my words on Bush being the most overpaid player in the NFL (he had 46 yards in just under a half of play) he goes and gets injured. Of course the Saints aren't disclosing the nature of the injury, but I'm sure Bush will feel better after a good night's sleep on his money bed.
- Will Smith - On any other day, Smith's four tackles and two sacks would've gotten him some fresh, hot gumbo. But on a day where he and his defense let up 439 yards (including 145 on the ground), he only deserves lukewarm Abita.
- Thomas Morstead - Averaged 50.2 yards on four punts. Good for him.