There is hope on the bayou. At least as much hope as there can be with an 0-4 football team.
I am convinced of this after watching the New Orleans Saints gut-wrenching 28-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers … even though the game’s excruciating finish was hard to watch. The Saints received the game gift-wrapped from the referees – the real refs! – but instead re-gifted it back to the hometown Packers, who were desperate for a win. Before they rejected an early Christmas present, the Saints showed glimmers, particularly on offense, of being a competent team.
Hope does not mean naivete. This Saints team – minus its head coach, interim head coach, and general manager – will not make the playoffs. Hell, they’ll probably still qualify for a Top 10 draft pick. Yet they might not be as painful to watch as I first believed after pulling my ginger mane out during their first three games.
Here are more thoughts on the Saints’ loss to the Packers:
1) Hope exists but beyond that I am not quite sure how to feel about the Saints. Take the botched hand-off on Green Bay backup QB Graham Harrell’s only play, the blown call on Darren Sproles’ fumble, and an epic passing performance from New Orleans QB Drew Brees (446 yards, three TDs, 10 different receivers) … and the Saints appeared destined for victory, right? Except they lost. The positive part of my being says “They came close, and they will win soon.” The negative part? “How did they lose this game?!?!?”
2) Diehard Saints fan Matt “Don’t Call Me Joey” LeBlanc tweeted post-game the Saints should cut Garrett Hartley for missing a 48-yard field goal that would have given them a 30-28 lead over the Packers. Hartley has one job and he failed to execute it, Matt wrote. True. While we’re cutting people we should probably consider cutting Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, arguably the worst starting safety duo in the NFL. Replace them with people off the street, I don’t care. At least the atrocious play would be explainable. Too bad injured Saints LB Jon Vilma didn’t put a bounty hit on Harper following Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’ go-ahead TD pass in the fourth quarter.
3) A quarter into the season and I am unsure what the Saints’ biggest need is. Is it left tackle (bye-bye, Jermon Bushrod!), defensive line (bye-bye, Sedrick Ellis!) or secondary? Giving Brees time to throw the ball is paramount of course to having a successful offense. There might not be a Top 10-worthy offensive tackle prospect in next year’s draft. Rushing the passer – something the Saints have not done well the past two seasons – is vital to having a good defense. So is stopping the run. This mock draft has the Saints selecting a defensive tackle.
4) New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan summed up my feelings about Saints running back Mark Ingram after the team settled for a short field goal in the third quarter.
First-and-goal from the 1 & the Saints try three passes. Didn’t they trade up in the draft for Mark Ingram for just such a situation?
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncanTP) September 30, 2012
Ingram, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama, has regressed in Year 2 with the Saints. I wouldn’t call it a sophomore slump because that would imply he had a strong rookie season. Ingram has 90 yards through four games. Perhaps most telling is his 2.8-yard per carry average. He goes down on the first hit damn near every time. He’s easily the most frustrating Saints running back since Reggie Bush, who ran out of bounds at the first sign of potential contact with a defender.
5) Let’s return to Point No. 1 for a second. Hope exists because the Saints have had a chance to tie or win all four of their games late in the fourth quarter. They’ve lost four games by a total of 20 points. Keep Brees standing and you have a chance to win games. The Saints’ rush defense needs to play better, in particular. They’re giving up 186 yards per game. At that rate, not only are opponents staying on the field for long stretches but the Saints’ offense is not getting into a rhythm and opposing defenses are having long rests. The Saints face a Chargers team this week that is 3-1 but does not have a dynamite rushing game (100 yards per game). Plus, there will be added incentive for Brees and Sproles facing their former team. Perhaps this is the week where the Saints pull an “upset” in the Superdome for their first win.