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Monday, October 11, 2010

All right, it's about time we tackled this head on

Posted By on Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 3:45 PM

The Saints are giving games away when they used to dominate

As Kevin Allman pointed out to me in an e-mail about the Saints: "Spoiled Crawfish for everybody."

And how. But still, though Kevin also said we should never speak of this game again, we just have to.

It's like waking up the morning after a nightmare, isn't it? You know the Saints are losing the faithful when WWOZ's DJ Mary Pat VanTine opens "Jazz from the Market" with an impassioned plea to stick behind the Black and Gold. Perspective, it seems, is hard to come by after your teams leads a game by 10 points but then loses without giving up a passing or rushing touchdown.

Think about that. The Saints offense did 95% of the scoring in yesterday's game. Unfortunately, that meant handing the Cardinals 21 points off of a slew of turnovers. If there's been another team — let alone defending Super Bowl Champion — that's had as a disastrous 3-2 start as the Saints have, one doesn't come to mind quickly.

3-2 is not a bad place to be in the NFL these days with every team in the league having registered a loss through the first five weeks. What's more, this season has seen more teams playing Jekyll and Hyde that you can keep track of. Consider: the Houston Texans opened the season by dominating the Indianapolis Colts, who in turn dismantled the New York Giants in a 24-point win in week 2. The Giants then went 1-1 and, this past weekend, walloped the Texans by 24 points.

This is all just crazy. And it's what makes the NFL so fascinating and maddening. Last year, despite all the crazy, a few teams were able to stand head and shoulders above the rest with the Saints and Colts at the very top. Now the Saints have fallen, along with the rest of the league, into a mess of wins and losses.

The Saints, though, can only address their own problems — of which there are many. Drew Brees (five interceptions through the first five games) is not throwing nearly as sharply as he was last year. Be it a lack of focus, rust, or something else, but one thing Brees did not do last year was give games away. He had three interceptions yesterday that seemed to come at the worst possible times. When last season he was marching the Saints down field when they most needed it, this season he's giving points away.

The offense, in general, lacks the spark they showed off so much last year. It's no longer a safe bet to call the Saints receivers the best in the league. Robert Meachem caught his first touchdown pass of the year yesterday and that probably had a lot of people wondering what took so long.

Maybe this is the nature of the beast. Last year, with everything to prove, the Saints showed the country they had the makings of a Super Bowl Champion. The Saints have less to prove this year. With less to prove comes less focus. Especially in the early weeks, when every game seems winnable and a litany of teams are struggling to define themselves, it's easy for the Champs to walk into games thinking "we got this" when they should be thinking "focus."

There was a moment in the fourth quarter that may have gone unnoticed but pretty much typifies where the Saints are this season. With just over seven minutes remaining, the Saints were down by 10 and needed at least a field goal to bring the game within a score. On the previous three drives, New Orleans had missed a field goal, lost a fumble and thrown an interception. On this drive, the Saints ran three plays - a rush for 1 yard, a pass for 8 yards, and a rush for -1 yards - and ... that was it. That was the most productive drive they had up to that point in the second half (their first drive of the half went three play for minus-two yards).

How Sean Payton and Drew Brees went from twin wunderkinds to dumb and dumber is a mystery. What's worse is that the next four weeks may help little in showing were the Saints are as a team. After traveling to play 3-1 Tampa Bay (3-1! Can you believe that?), the Saints face a one-win Browns team in the Dome and then get the once-again-formidable Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night and then finish at Carolina before the bye.

You'd think a conservative estimate puts the Saints at 5-4 when this next stretch ends, but considering they almost lost to Carolina already, a complete implosion could land this team at 4-5 easily. Of course, they could pull it all together and suddenly be 7-2 and in control of the NFC once again, but it's hard to believe that will happen so quickly after their recent performances.

There are no more guarantees in the NFL and any Who Dat that expected a carbon copy of last season is now feeling this painful truth. All you can do is get the gris-gris out and pray this team regains its magic touch.

Oh, and if players would just stop getting injured, that would help tremendously.

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