Saints fans had a glimmer of hope heading into the Tampa Bay game after two solid weeks of football from the Black and Gold. But fans were brought down to earth with the team's 23-20 defeat against the Bucs today.
The weather was nasty, there were questionable calls and things just didn't work out for the Saints. So who's to blame for the loss? It's not who you would think.
Anyone who has watch the Saints since Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans knows that the offense wins games and losses can usually be pinned on the defense. Well, not today. This loss can be placed squarely on the shoulders of two people: Drew Brees and Coach Payton.
Now, I'm not going to bash Brees. Without him, the Saints are a 3-4 win team at best and he is the main reason that the Saints have been competitive at all the past couple of years. But today, he was off. Whether it was the wind and rain, the Bucs pressure or dropped passes from Saints receivers, Brees didn't have his A game today. He made bad decisions, forced some throws and threw into double coverage too many times.
Don't get me wrong, he still had the Saints on the verge of pulling out the win after erasing a 10 point deficit in the 4th quarter, but he let his team down late in the game with his final two drive killing interceptions. So why was Brees struggling? I think the main reason is that too much has been placed on his shoulders. He carries the offense and is forced to be nearly perfect for the team to succeed. This is where the rest of the blame goes to Coach Payton.
In recent years, Payton seems to abandon the running game too soon or simply ignores it completely. The weather in Tampa was rainy all day with winds up to 20 mph, yet the Payton still had Brees throwing the ball 47 times. Deuce McAllister sat idle on the sidelines until the second half, while Payton forcefed the ball to the returning Reggie Bush. This was the type of game that the bruising McAllister used to take over, but he gets only three carries for 13 yards. I don't get it.
Payton is a great offensive mind, but he seems to outthink or overthink things too often. With Bush out of the lineup, the Saints went 3-1, their best stretch of the season. With Bush in the lineup, Payton seems to force plays to him. The offense doesn't flow as well and gets too creative for its own good.
So where do the Saints go from here? They still have an outside shot at a Wild Card berth. It's unlikely, but the team still has something to play for. If they win out, they will finish 10-6. They'll have to hope for some help and Saints fans can root against the Falcons, Panthers/Bucs (whoever doesn't win the NFC South), Cowboys, Redskins and Bears. That's a bunch of teams above the Saints in the standings, but there's still a quarter of the season to go so its too early to give up on 2008.
With Brees' pursuit of Dan Marino's passing record, it would be a shame to see that effort be wasted on a .500 team. The next step is a home game and a chance to get revenge on the Atlanta Falcons next week.
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