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The Saints: Consistently inconsistent

By Jeremy R. Johnson

 

To say the Saints have had a tumultuous season to this point would be an understatement. Experts and arm-chair quarterbacks have tried to predict wins and losses for this team, and the result is never certain or expected.
The Saints opened the season on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, where they would eventually lose 31-19, in a contest that went according to plan. The Cardinals were clearly the superior team, and their current record of 6-2, leads the tough NFC West. They might be the most talented team in the entire NFL, so there is no shame in this loss. I cannot say the same for all the games that followed.

 
Our next opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, came into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with a loss, after being man handled 42-14 by the Tennessee Titans in week one. The Buccaneers who were coming off a year in which they won two games total, and received the number one overall pick in the draft, which turned into quarterback James Winston. This game appeared to be as winnable a game as New Orleans has on its schedule, but no one told the Saints. The New Orleans defense made the rookie QB look like a seasoned vet. His numbers were not mind-blowing, but were efficient enough to get the job done. To make matters even worse, poor offensive line play led to Drew Brees sustaining an injury to his throwing shoulder, and his status for the next game was definitely in question. Our Saints now sit at 0-2, and are about to head on the road to face the NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers.

 
The Panthers entered the 2015 season with lots of expectation. They had won the NFC South Division Championship, and had not lost a regular season contest since week 13 of the previous season. New Orleans entered this game without quarterback Drew Brees, and backup Luke McCown was charged with trying to help his team win on the road against our toughest division foe. The Saints put together their best performance of the season offensively with the journeyman quarterback under center. McCown passed for 310 yards, with 31 completions on 38 attempts, with zero touchdowns and one costly, late game interception. After another tough loss, the Saints fell to 0-3, with an injured Dallas Cowboys team up next.

 

So far the Saints year has been going badly to say the least. the least. The offense looks like a former shell of itself, and the defense is as bad as it’s ever been. Yet, the Saints managed to pull out a victory against the Cowboys who were without their star quarterback and all-world wide receiver Dez Bryant. As has been become customary, the Saints defense allowed the Cowboys to hang around, and force overtime. The Saints received the ball first in overtime and proceeded to score on its second play from scrimmage, when newly-added free agent C.J. Spiller beat a linebacker on a wheel route out of the backfield, and took it 80 yards for the score and the win. The Saints are now 1-3, and are about to go on the road to take on the struggling Philadelphia Eagles.

 
Philadelphia was expected to contend for a championship this year by most experts, especially considering the NFC East as a whole is not as strong as it has been in the past. They entered this game with the Saints, also 1-3 and needing a win badly to stay in contention in the NFC East. After beating the Cowboys in the previous week, expectations were that the Saints would ride the positive momentum into this game and continue the Eagles misery, but it was not to be on this day.

 
The Eagles routinely drove the ball up and down the field on the beleaguered Saints defense. With the exception of two early end zone interceptions, Sam Bradford roasted the defense. The offense was just as putrid as the defense, and only managed to muster up 17 points against a bad Eagles defense, with Drew Brees returning from injury. The ultimate outcome was a 31-17 drubbing that sent the Saints to 1-4, with a date with the hated, yet undefeated Falcons in the Superdome.

 
When the Saints and Falcons play, you can pretty much throw their records out of the window. These games are usually decided by a touchdown or less, and are always a hard-fought contest. This game was no exception. On paper, this game appeared to be an automatic loss, considering how well the Falcons had played up until this point in the season. Julio Jones is widely considered the best receiver in football, and he was going against a Saints secondary that had been torched by opposing quarterbacks all year. New Orleans came out and played their best game of the season, hands down. Julio Jones did most of his damage against the Saints zone defense, but was held to only five yards and one catch by New Orleans’ own Delvin Breaux in primary coverage, who despite the overall poor play of the defense, has been playing extremely well.

 
The Saints jumped on top of the Falcons early with a blocked punt for a touchdown, and the Falcons could never overcome the calamity of errors that plagued them on this night. The 31-21 score made the game appear closer than it really was. The Saints now sit at 2-4, and are about to go on the road to face the equally reeling Indianapolis Colts, who also sport a 2-4 record, but manage to still be leading the AFC South division.

 
Andrew Luck is a rising star in this league, and the Colts were expected to be contending for a Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game the previous year, but their year has not gone as planned. Luck has been playing like a second or first-year player, and has seemed to regress this year. Outside of two long touchdown plays, both given up by Delvin Breaux against T.Y. Hilton, after Breaux slipped on the turf, the Saints defense was lights out. The Saints managed to pull out its 3rd victory in four games, and the offense appears to have gotten back its lost mojo, but the fireworks that were to come on the following week against the New York Giants was insane.

 
New Orleans has had the upper hand against the Giants in the Superdome as of late. It would be safe to say, that Eli Manning probably does not look forward to playing in his hometown, but this night would be different, even in defeat. Drew Brees and Eli Manning put on one of the more exciting displays of offensive football in decades. They combined for 13 touchdowns, and over 1000 yards of passing offense, as both defenses were…well defenseless. In the end, the Saints beat the Giants on a late field goal, the final score 52-49, in one of the best offensive displays ever.

 
The Saints finally sit at an even .500 for the year with a 4-4 record. The Saints’ next opponent, the Tennessee Titans, came into the Superdome at 1-6, not having won a game since week one. The Titans had also just fired their head coach mid-week, and were getting back their starting QB and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. This game appeared to be just what the Saints needed to get over .500 for the first time in the past two seasons.

 
The Saints should have won this game, they needed to win this game, but it wasn’t to be. The Saints defense was terrible as usual, and the offense who had played much better in recent weeks, could not sustain drives, or consistently put up points. The offense started well, but Drew Brees was routinely harassed by Brian Orakpo and company, even receiving stitches in his chin following the contest after taking a brutal hit in the 3rd quarter.

 
The Saints ultimately lost in overtime, where the Saints defense was just flat out beat, or got some sort of defensive penalty to aid Tennessee’s drive. The end result was a beautifully designed play-action roll out by Mariota to his right, only to throw back across the field to a wide-open tight end in the end zone. Game over. This was the Saints most embarrassing loss of the season. They allowed a rookie quarterback to become the first rookie to pass for over 300 yards, with four touchdowns, and no interceptions in NFL history.

 
The Saints’ remaining schedule is the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, with only two teams, Carolina and Atlanta, with winning records. New Orleans is now 4-6 and, with Carolina being undefeated, have no realistic shot at winning the division. Their only hope is for other NFC teams to come back to the pack, and hopefully open up a window for a wild card berth. The Saints have been one of the more frustrating teams to watch this season, as they win games you expect them to lose, and lose games they are expected to win.

 
If the Saints continue on the trend they have been on this season, it is unreasonable to expect more than an 8-8 or even 7-9 seasons. Yet, you could never be certain. The Saints could beat their two division rivals with winning records, and then turn around and lose to those teams with losing records. This season the Saints’ only constant is being inconsistent.

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