It's best that I waited about 12 hours after the game to give my final reflection on the New Orleans Saints playoff loss to Minnesota. I said yesterday over on Facebook that in a storied history of losing this was the worst loss in Saints history. This morning I really do believe that. With so much on the line I do not think the Saints have ever lost in more dramatic fashion. This was worse than Big Ben, because nothing was on the line, this was worse than the Bum Phillips FG loss to the Rams and this was worse than the San Francisco loss 6 years ago in this same spot in the playoffs. There is no Saints fans, once the Saints got that go ahead FG with 25 seconds left that thought this was going to end the way it did.
But on this Monday morning, time kind of heals and most people realize that things like this can and do happen in a sporting event. Some are putting all the blame on a 21 year old rookie named Marcus Williams, calling him the goat. Many have rallied to his defense, including New Orleans area hero Steve Gleason. And the 21 year old was man enough to face the media, talk about the play and admit his error. But games are not really won or lost on one play. Perhaps getting some points in the first half would have made a difference, perhaps challenging a terrible call by officials to the benefit of the Vikings on their 1st scoring drive would have changed the mojo in the earliest minutes of the game. You see at the end of the day, somebody wins and somebody losses. Last night I pinned the blame on the head coach and the defensive coordinator for not having more defensive help behind Williams. Maybe this is true, maybe not; it really isn't something I am an expert on other than being a long-suffering fan. Yet, even this morning, I still mostly feel this way.
A couple of things to ponder this morning, especially if you are a Saints fan. And by the way, yes I am a fan, despite the fact that I comment on those plays or games that disappoint. Someone on Facebook tells me that I look at the glass half empty. Well, as a wise man once told me, whether the glass is half full or half empty, it's still half a glass! So let's all ponder this: the Saints had a great year, winning a total of 12 games including the 3 victories in one year against Carolina. The Saints did beat Atlanta at home and the Saints did rattle off an incredible 8 game winning streak. That is really where the Saints excelled, that 8 game winning streak wiped out the memories of the 0-2 start and for some, me included, the last three ho-hum 7-9 seasons. After 10 games, I was confident the Saints would have a winning record. After the LA Rams loss, I believe the Saints struggled some. They finished the season 3-3 and never won a game on the road again. But in those 3 late season wins were playoff clinching victories and even in losing at Tampa Bay, the Saints clinched the NFC South. So they do have that championship. Having lost to Tampa, the Saints are assigned the Carolina Panthers, yet again, in 1st round of playoffs. We all remember now that the Saints won, we kind of forget that it was too close for comfort. Then the Vikings.
So let's ponder the game itself. While NFL experts were breaking about 55-45 in favor of the Vikings, the betting money in Vegas was clearly trending Vikings. After the first half those bettors looked like geniuses. Saints came out flat, no offense and a defense that thankfully surrendered only 17 points. I say thankfully because it felt like the Vikings could have scored a lot more in that first half. Even Drew Brees had a terrible first half with a 26% QB rating. But the 2nd half really was all Saints. Something woke them up, something deep down kicked in and they took the lead away from the Vikings, not once but twice, in the final few minutes. And then like that, they lost it on that one play that sadly, will live in infamy in the lives and memories of long-time Saints fans. And yes, I continue to believe this will be the worst play in the history of this franchise.
But truly, if you love the Saints, and I really believe this, you have to love the body of work throughout 2017 and you do have to admire the way they fought back when they could have mailed it in after that horrible first half. and looking forward, you have to remain excited about the future if these incredible Saints rookies continue to impress and progress. Kamara is a beast, what a great draft pick by the Saints organization. And those 1st rounders, Lattimore and Ramczyck are top notch. Even Marcus Williams at #2 will be great, if he does not let yesterdays mistake haunt him. And the Saints also drafted future super stars like LB Alex Anzalone and DE Trey Hendrickson. At one point this season, the Saints had 6 draft picks out of 7 as starters. This should bode well for the future. But a lot now depends on the future of Drew Brees. Let the clock begin because Brees is unsigned and as we all know, he is 39 as of this very morning. Despite my personal belief that he is starting to lack some arm strength, he is still nothing short of great. He is so smart, so disciplined, so prepared. The future of the Saints will be better with him than without him. However, perhaps it is high time that the Saints invest in his future back-up.
Let's talk about injuries, the Saints did persevere despite a boat load of injuries. With all the improvement the young bucks brought to the defensive backfield, the Saints never had the luxury of proven talent Delvin Breaux. He missed the entire year with an injury that was badly mis-diagnosed many months ago. Staying in the defensive backfield, do we even remember we lost starter Kenny Vaccaro several months ago. The Saints placed two linebackers on injured reserve earlier, one a great starter, the other a solid player too; AJ Klein and Kikaha. Then the Saints lost Okafor on the DL as well as McDaniel at the end, and is it too long ago to remember the Saints big run stuffer, Nick Fairley missed the entire year due to a serious heart ailment. His future is in doubt. Offensively, the Saints had problems on the OL, losing Zach Strief to injury and dealing with nagging injuries to Armstead and others all year long. Don't forget, Andrus Peat ended the season on IR too. The starting TE Fleener alos spent most of the year on IR leaving Josh Hill to do most of the work. The Saints also had some FBs on IR and a long snapper. In all, over 20 Saints ended the year on IR yet the Saints successfully employed he next man up attitude throughout 2017.
On balance the Saints were so much more good news than bad news in 2017 and there is much to be excited about. You also had the incredible reality that the NFC was awesome this year. When you can win a division with a record of 11-5 and are only the #4 seed, all I can say is wow. So message to the Saints, to be great in NFC, you better win 12 games or thereabout.
So let this be the final word on the 2017 Saints season from this fan, who likes to call it as I see it. And I know that nothing I say should be used as professional analysis, I am just a fan, since 1967, and I always want the best for our Saints. The Saints are more than a football team, they, in many ways, are the heartbeat of New Orleans and south Louisiana. Thank you for a great 2017, now on to bigger and better things in 2018. And get healthy!!
The sun is up, a beautiful sunrise; God is still in control; Geaux Saints!