Saints Should Learn Lessons from the Champions

Jan 29, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; General view of Super Bowl XLIV championship ring to commemorate the New Orleans Saints 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on February 7, 2010 on display at the NFL Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sport
Jan 29, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; General view of Super Bowl XLIV championship ring to commemorate the New Orleans Saints 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on February 7, 2010 on display at the NFL Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sport /

So the entirety of the 2016-17 NFL season is complete.  What’s old is new again, as the New England Patriots have claimed yet another Super Bowl victory. Despite not having Tom Brady for the first 4 games of the season, despite again not having a single “star” outside of Brady, and despite being behind by 25 points in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI.

What can New Orleans Saints fans learn from this season and this Super Bowl?  Quite a few things.

Lesson 1: How to win without your starting QB.

Brady’s role in Deflategate led to his suspension for 4 games this year.  What did New England do without him?  Win.  They were 3-1 with Brady watching from home, having Jimmy Garoppolo (according to some sources, a possible thought for a backup to Drew Brees in a trade, though financially it may not be feasible…) and Jacoby Brissett as their starters.  Whether they coached them up or simply drafted better talent, the fact that they won 3 of 4 games with Brady sidelined is very important, not only for today but also for their future.

Lesson 2: Work the system.

Bill Belichick isn’t flashy or special.  He doesn’t hold some secret formula to coaching.  The Patriots have only 3 major advantages over anyone else –

1. They play in a perennially less talented division.  They occasionally lose a division game, but they normally win 5 of their 6 division games over Buffalo, Miami and the Jets.  That’s one-third of their season in the bag.

2. Brady.  We can hate all we want, and we can try to fudge and say Joe Montana is the best because he never lost a Super Bowl.  But 5 rings, 7 AFC Championships in 11 attempts, 4 Super Bowl MVPs (more than Montana…) and a couple of NFL MVP’s put him in the conversation for the best ever.  Peyton Manning had 5 NFL MVP’s but for all his greatness could only will his teams to 2 Super Bowl wins in 5 trips to the big game.

3. Belichick.  While not “special”, his system is one that is repeatable.  Don’t get it twisted – he’s a great coach, and Brady is a great QB.  This system wouldn’t necessarily work with just any QB.  The Saints have a solid coach and a great QB, so they are fine in this regard.

Lesson 3: Don’t fall in love with players.

The Patriots have famously picked up some good talent, but they don’t keep them past their expiration date.  Play them until either their usefulness has run out or you find a better, younger, cheaper option.

Lesson 4: Mine the draft and free agency well.

The Patriots have largely hit on their draft picks and have picked up key free agents that work in their system.

Lesson 5: You don’t have to be the best at anything, but you need to be better than average at most everything.

When you think of Hall of Fame players, the only Patriots you’ll think of over these years are Brady and Belichick.  The rest is an amalgam of very good role players.  They always rank in the top 10 in offense and normally the same in defense.  Stephen Gostokowski is as clutch and solid a kicker as they come and their special teams are solid.  And, most importantly, they don’t turn the ball over much.  Even playing so often in inclement weather in the Northeast, they rarely fumble or throw interceptions.

The Saints’ early system was modeled after the Patriots system and their success.

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Brees was our Brady, and honestly, speaking just in numbers, has outperformed Brady over the last 11 seasons.  Our early teams had great role players, but not stars.  Guys like Scott Shanle, Scott Fujita, Steve Gleason, Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas aren’t on anyone’s Hall of Fame list, but they got the job done well.  That you got better players like Jonathan Vilma and Darren Sharper in free agency shows astute sensibilities.  And that Marques Colston emerged into a Saints star from a 7th round pick (like Jahri Evans, from a small school) is sheer great fortune (and good coaching).

As the New Orleans Saints became successful, their methodology changed.

They abandoned the practice of finding good players who were also good people and began a run of questionable drafts and free agent moves. Colstons, Evans’, and Moores were joined by the likes of Galette, P-Rob, and Lofton, while we let go of Darren Sproles and Malcolm Jenkins.  The results were evident – 4 of the last 5 seasons finishing 7-9, and over $40 million in dead money.  This is something that just doesn’t happen in New England. If they sign a player that doesn’t fit in, they release him and move forward. The Saints continually tried to put square pegs into round holes.

There is one more thing the Saints can learn, this time from the Falcons – never let the moment get too big for you.

A great number of Falcons players had never seen the post-season, and even fewer had seen a Super Bowl.  Atlanta came out the gate firing on all cylinders.  They parlayed that fever and energy into a sizable lead.  However, between the defense being on the field too much, bad offensive play calling, over-exuberance, and playing against New England, that energy dwindled.  Atlanta never recovered from the tailspin and ended up giving up 31 unanswered points.  Total and complete meltdown.  It does stand to reason that New England took advantage of Atlanta’s miscues – as well as forcing some of those to occur – but make no mistake that Atlanta blew their opportunities.

As the Saints move forward, for them to be successful they should go back to likening themselves to the Patriots.  Many have pointed at some similarities between the early days of the Payton/Brees era and today.  It remains to be seen, but if the Saints intend on returning to the playoffs, they should hope the pundits are correct.  The Who Dat Nation has had enough lessons in mediocrity; we’re ready for a move forward.