Saints come up short in “pride” game, lose to Falcons.

Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Some fans wanted the Saints to lose anyway, for draft positioning. And at least there’s that silver lining. But man, oh man, did this game suck.

The Saints never had a chance in this one. Until they almost did. It’s crazy to think that, had Brees placed that INT better, it could have been a TD to Thomas, and this could have been a game. But don’t let that distract you from the team’s performance.

I’m sure the defense looked this helpless at points last year, but if so, I’ve blocked if from my memory. This was bad. It’s the only Saints’ game since their earlier loss to Atlanta and to Detroit that was never close. But this feels miles worse than that.

To the team’s credit, the played much better in the second half. The game ended a one-score game. But you figure the Falcons took the pedal off the metal a bit. I was ready to write this article in the first half. With the same title. Think about that.

It’s the worst imaginable way to end a season. Really a nightmare scenario. Dropping to 7-9, destroyed by the Dirty Birds, who in turn clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs. The defense looked absolutely helpless. And the Falcons did a solid job containing Brees and the offense.

To their credit, the Falcons defense plays with a lot of speed and executed solid coverage throughout the game. And this offense, without a doubt, is the best this team has faced all year. So many weapons. And hobbled as the Saints are at CB, there wasn’t much Allen could do to keep Matt Ryan in check.

The Falcons opened the game at record-breaking pace, scoring touchdowns on all five of their first possessions. Devonta Freeman had a big hand in that, breaking out for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the second Falcons possession. But it was an all-around effort. Matt Ryan looked very much like an MVP candidate. I’m hoping, beyond all hopes, that Kyle Shanahan gets a HC job somewhere this offseason. He’s done a hell of a job with this offense.

A number of Saints players passed milestones on the game. Drew Brees broke 5,000 yards for the fifth time in his career. Michael Thomas broke a few Saints rookie records, including most yards with 1,106, most touchdowns, and most receptions. And Mark Ingram, on the Saints second to last drive of the game, got over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. A good note to dwell on, if you don’t want to dwell on the game.

And, just a parenthetical: I know it’s an asset, and any team would love to have this sort of player, but I hate hard hitting safeties. Don’t like watching Neal play.

What it means

This will serve as convincing fuel for the Sean Payton wanderlust rumors. And it will fire up the Saints fanbase that wants Payton gone.

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In the end, I’m not convinced that Payton wants to coach anywhere but New Orleans. There’ve been rumors every year, and every year there’s been nothing to validate them. Until we have any indication from Payton himself, I’ll chalk it up to speculative journalism.

As to whether or not the Saints should stick with Payton, I think most agree that he deserves at least one more year. The roster is still improved from last year, disastrous final game or no. If they continue to improve next year, good. If they miss the playoffs again, barring some catastrophic injuries, it may be time to move on.

I like Payton, and I think he’s an asset to this football team. I don’t want to see him go. And if there is even the slightest sign of improvement next year, I will probably still be in his camp. But there are some solid candidates available, if the team flounders.

Dennis Allen, too, I think deserves one more year. We’ll see if this defense can keep up their upward trend. This game was horrible enough to remind me of that Redskins game last year that got Rob Ryan fired. But this Falcons offense is a different beast, so, again, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The draft

The Saints, if you’re looking for some positive sign, will earn a higher draft pick with this loss. And that counts all the way down the board, so it’s nothing to scoff at. This loss will land them the 11th pick. That could make a big difference in caliber of player, but it’s on the scouting team to get the pick right.

Next: Saints biggest roster needs

I’d still have preferred the win. Or least a less horrendous loss. But that’s life. It’s a new year, but it’s the same roster, the same team. It’ll take focus and smart decisions to get the Saints back in the playoffs. Here’s hoping we get it done.