Jan 17, 2012

Kicking us while we're down

Heartbreaking ... Sting ... Agonizing ... Hurt ... Stomach Punch ... Unbelievable ... Finality. Whatever word you want to use to describe the feelings after the Saints last minute loss to the 49ers, none of them sound good to Saints fans. Then, to make matters worse, the Giants destroyed the Packers the next day in a game that would have set up the NFC Championship in New Orleans. Talk about adding insult to injury.

What a week it has been for Louisiana football fans. First LSU no-shows the BCS National Championship game, then the Saints fight back from one of their worse performances with 5 turnovers only to lose with 9 seconds left, and lastly, news broke last night that LSU commitment and #1 QB in the country Gunner Kiel was taking his talents to Notre Dame. Anyone else want to kick us while we're down?

Back to the Saints game. I've never had a loss linger with me for days afterward like this one has. Honestly, it does hurt. This team was posed to do something special and everything was lining up for them, only to have it snatch away, not once but twice. After the Saints defense played admirable for 3 1/2 quarters, their coverage disappeared and Alex Smith and Vernon Davis took over and put the Saints away.

Sure Drew Brees and company wouldn't go down quietly. First Darren Sproles grabbed the lead only to see Alex Smith run untouched for a touchdown minutes later. Then Jimmy Graham went beastmode and seemed to have put the Saints in the NFC Championship. But then the curse of Gregg Williams struck. The curse of putting safeties in single coverage on tight ends bit the Saints defense and a couple of plays later and Vernon Davis is crying on the sidelines. You have to give credit to both Smith and Davis for excellent throws and catches, but the Saints could have put themselves in better position to stop those plays.

With a minute and a half left in the game, the goal is to let the clock run. Keep everything in front of you and tackle in bounds. Sounds hard? Not really. But the Saints stuck by what they did all year and played man on Davis and he burned them for a long gain. When they finally went zone in the red zone (with everyone thinking the 49ers would play for OT), Davis and Smith stuck the dagger in Saints fans hearts and the dream was over.

Looking back, this was an amazing season, but it will always be remembered for what could have been. Could this have been the Saints last chance to get to the promise land? As long as Brees and Coach Payton are around, this team will compete, but they could lose a lot this offseason. They already are losing Gregg Williams, but not many fans will see that as a big loss. Williams changed the defensive culture in New Orleans, but it is a good time for a change.

There are some big decisions to be made this offseason. The core of this team is in place, but with free agents like Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Carl Nicks, Tracy Porter and Robert Meachem, there are some tough decisions to be made. Brees, Colston and Nicks will be priorities, but it will be tough to keep them all. Brees isn't going anywhere, so it will depend how fast his deal gets done and what money is left for the rest of the free agents. I'd like to see both Colston and Nicks stay, but if I had to guess, I'd imagine Nicks has played his last game in the black and gold. They already invested a lot of money in Jahri Evans and do you need big money tied up in your two guards. Nicks may be the better of the two, but it's easier to replace a guard than some of the other positions.

This will be a long offseason, but an important one. The Saints don't have a 1st round pick thanks to the Mark Ingram trade, so free agency is that much more important. With Brees now 33, the window of opportunity will be closing soon, so the team needs to reload and get right back to work to make another Super Bowl run. It will be hard, but fans need to forget the "what could have been" season and get ready for next year. The Super Bowl is in New Orleans, so the Saints will have even more motivation to become the first home team in the big game.

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