Sean Payton and Drew Drew


Scoot: Did the Saints knock themselves out of the playoffs?

January 06, 2020 - 11:49 am

The refs sucked - but the OT loss to the Vikings in the Wild Card playoff game Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome lies clearly with the Saints. As great as they are in their careers - both QB Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton were not great.

When the Saints failed to score a touchdown and settled for a field goal after getting inside the Vikings’ 5-yard line on the team’s first possession, the Saints showed a tentative attitude that prevailed most of the game.

From the beginning, the Saints did not play with a sense of urgency - the team never seemed focused. Perhaps the Saints believed the media consensus that they were one of the teams to beat? Many positioned the game as a formality and that the Saints were destined to win and travel to Green Bay to play the Packers next weekend. The Saints may have been affected by a collective subconscious confidence that beating the Vikings at home was a foregone conclusion and forgetting that every game is a game to be played and won - not just played.

After the third consecutive year of the Saints being given a boot out of the playoffs in three games they should have won - it’s easy for many Saints fans to resort calling for heads - including the Saints future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.

Blaming Drew Brees for the Saints loss to the Vikings is more the manifestation of frustration than the product of logical thinking, but there are a few realities that should be addressed. Drew Brees had a bad game. It wasn’t all his fault because the Vikings’ defense was aggressive and pressured Brees, but Brees doesn’t have the ability to escape like the new young breed of quarterbacks in the NFL. The game has changed, and quarterbacks that pose a running threat seem to be the present and the future of the NFL.

It is significant that two legends - Drew Brees and Tom Brady - had poor performances eliminating the Saints and the Patriots in the Wild Card games. There is strong speculation that Tom Brady will return for another season, but not necessarily with the Patriots. After the game yesterday, Drew Brees gave no indication whether he will return or retire. That can’t be an easy decision to make, particularly after ending the season with such a poor perfromance.

While they show signs of aging, both Brees and Brady appear to have plenty enough to return next season. I cannot imagine Drew Brees ever going to another team; but if Brees is that great, then questions need to be asked about why the Saints have been so close - yet so far away the last three years.

In the loss to the Vikings, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was outsmarted most of the game; and Sean Payton lacked imagination in play-calling. At times, the offense looked like an exercise in herding cats. Did the game plan lack creativity because of the assumption that beating the Vikings was a certainty and the creative play-calling had to be saved for the game against the Packers?

Drew Brees makes the city of New Orleans and all of the Who Dat Nation proud with the long list of records he has shattered, but individual records and statistics are meaningless if a team doesn’t reach its goal of succeeding in the playoffs.

All of the incredible records held by Brees meant nothing in the game against the Vikings. The goal of every team in the NFL is the win the Super Bowl. All the passing yards and all the touchdown passes thrown mean nothing if the quarterback can’t convert third downs to keep drives alive. This is not meant to dismiss any of the great contributions Drew Brees has made to the city, the Saints and the NFL; but it is an attempt to put statistics and records into a proper perspective. If Drew Brees is honest about what motives him - then getting to the Super Bowl supersedes personal records.

And Drew Brees’ poor performance against the Vikings was not all on him. The loss was a “team” loss. In the game of football, the quarterbacks get most of the attention as the leaders of the offense; and when they win they tend to get most of the attention and the bigger contracts. The downside is that the play of the quarterback draws a great amount of attention when teams lose. Fair or not - that is the reality of their chosen profession.

Let me mention one more time - “the refs sucked” and there is a strong argument for offensive pass interference against the Viking’s receiver in the end zone. The no-call gave the Vikings the touchdown and the win. But the players and the coaches put the Saints - and the fans - in the position to lose a game that should have been won. The question is whether the players and Sean Payton will do enough honest soul-searching to figure out why the team is so great but struggles to hurdle the challenges of playoff games?

Brees and Brady can return next season and that’s their choice - but the NFL is changing and the style of successful quarterbacks will less resemble the Brees/Brady prototype.

There have been few exceptions - but the Saints - even under Drew Brees and Sean Payton - have not shown they have a killer instinct with the desire to finish teams off and rise to the occasion of huge playoff games. The crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was loud - but it didn’t take much to take the crowd out of the game. Downtown New Orleans did not have a playoff buzz like you would expect. It was up to the Saints to come out focused and determined to put the Vikings away and that did not happen. The questions is - with so much promise about this season - why were the Saints seemingly not mentally prepared?

Most discouraging about the Saints loss to the Vikings is all the talk about team talent and chemistry this season, which gave fans such confidence that “this was the year!” You could hear it when Brees and Payton talked - you felt it throughout the season. I think we will all be more skeptical the next time all the pieces seem to be in place. It will feel like eternity before the next season begins - but we will endure the pain once again. But I do believe cynicism will increase, and this third consecutive year of losing at the end will make many Saints fans hesitant to get too excited before the team demonstrates that they have addressed the issue that plagues them.

Football is a game of emotion and statistics and match-up are a distant second to the mental attitude of a team. Mental toughness has too often escaped the Saints and the fans - those who pay the players and the coaches - have a right to be frustrated and deserve more substantive answers.

So, let’s turn out attention to the LSU - Clemson CFP championship game next Monday.

And with the carnival season officially beginning today - there’s much to look forward to!

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