I’m not concerned about the playoffs anymore.
I never expected it this season anyway. So I’m ahead of the game. When this season started, we were asked to make predictions on the New Orleans Saints’ record for the year. Looking at the schedule and having seen the preseason games, I felt I was being cautiously optimistic with a 6-10 record. It’s was a one game slip from last season, but I could only find 4-5 games I truly expected them to win. Beyond that, every team wins a few they aren’t supposed to, so I figured the Saints would scratch out a couple extra wins.
However, I’ve been a season ticket holder since 2003 and a fan since I can remember, and I must say outside of the playoff teams, this Saints team has been as much fun to watch as any Saints team in a long time. Unless they lay a giant egg down the stretch, regardless of finish, this team has impressed in many ways and has laid the cornerstone for a franchise to be reckoned with for several years to come.
Preseason was bleak, and the Saints didn’t give much reason to get excited.
Injuries from training camp and then the first few weeks of the season left this team fairly well on the side of the road, simply hoping to not get run over as they faced one of the toughest divisions in football this season, the AFC West, and the normally potent NFC West. But something happened to this team this season, and I’d have to say it came from within the walls at Airline Drive. This wasn’t a movement or a takeover – but more a coming of age and an age of enlightenment converging. It came from several angles – players, front office, coaching staff. And it created what seems to be a lighter, more functional attitude, even in the face of defeat.
Some of it is completely palpable
Kenny Vaccaro in his 4th season has come of age and is a team leader. Even in the face of (dumb) adversity with his looming suspension, even with over-aggressive play to the point of making silly mistakes; he’s making a difference.
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Cam Jordan won’t ever be a Julius Peppers type defensive end, but he’s becoming what could be called a Will Smith Plus. He’s playing that end spot like Smith did, but better.
Drew Brees is having a standout year. It seems silly to think he’d do otherwise, but even by Brees’ lofty standards, this is a great season. And at his age, most QB’s are thinking of gold watches and rocking chairs – Brees is playing better than most of the QB’s that are 10 years his junior.
Some of them are shockers
This writer has been one of the most outspoken critics of Jairus Byrd (still not a huge fan of the deal and there isn’t any way to make up for the time he’s missed and money he’s stolen…), but at the moment Byrd is one of our leading tacklers. He’s not your prototype free safety, and that’s really what he was brought over here to be, but save for that, he’s making an impact.
Andrus Peat couldn’t beat out Zach Strief for the starting job last season. It took him until the regular season started this year (and even a couple of games in) to settle in. But settle in he has. He’s not the best left guard or left tackle in the game, but he’s done a good job at both.
Speaking of Strief – WOW is all anyone can say. For a man to recommit himself as Strief has is nothing short of tremendous.
Change has to start at the top. And it has.
Mickey Loomis has hit on a good staff of player personnel people and they are now more hit than miss with draft picks and free agents. Sure, you’ll have the occasional Laurinaitis (but you didn’t pay much for him and you’re not on the hook for much in dead money…), but you also got Sterling Moore and B.W. Webb who’ve been better than serviceable.
Sean Payton apparently saw something in himself and allowed Pete Carmichael to call plays. This has made a huge difference in continuity and has allowed Payton to concentrate more on the overall game, which has been beneficial. If there is a poster child for all that is right with the Saints this season, it’s Dennis Allen.
To take a defense that was missing: it’s rookie stud defensive tackle, who was projected as a starter, 2 defensive ends hurt in mini-camp and training camp respectively, a complete gamer every down type linebacker, your number one cover corner, and then your second and third corners – all by the end of week 3, and make lemonade out of those lemons… it’s a miracle. And somehow, Dennis Allen used every piece of duct tape in the greater New Orleans area to hold together a rag tag bunch that still gave up a lot of yards and points, but kept it close enough for the offense to have opportunities.
Then as starters got healthy – many of them at least – you had some depth as well. This defense isn’t great – but as many have said many times before: they don’t have to be a top 10 defense for this team to win with the offense we normally possess.
This could have been a playoff team.
It may have been the New York Giants game – a game we should have won. Or the Denver game – another we gave away. It could have been Kansas City where we were driving to go ahead and fumbled. It could be all three of those. Any one of, or some combination of those games go from losses to wins and this team might have a playoff shot.
As it stands with the NFC East stacking up in front of us, and with the Black and Gold still in 3rd place in the division, a playoff berth for this season looks bleak. While we control our own situation (win out and we finish no worse than second in our division), we have no control over what happens with the Redskins, Eagles, Vikings and Packers. The entire Wild Card may come from the NFC East. But for this Who Dat, that’s OK. This Saints team isn’t perfect, and this season has been less than perfect. But it’s been very entertaining nonetheless. Watching this team grow up and show up each week has been more than any true Who Dat could ask for.