I said I wasn't going to play this card until the mid-season. But I can't wait that long.
The Saints miss Sean Payton.
And they've missed him more so than any of us ever expected they would.
There is no more perfect example than the finish to Sunday's game.
When Drew Brees hit Jed Collins for a six-yard touchdown pass at the 5:36 mark, the Saints went up by 18 points and were dominating. It looked like victory was theirs.
Then Jamaal Charles scored on 91-yard touchdown run.
Once Brees followed that score with a poorly thrown interception, the offense went into sleepwalk mode.
As I closely watched the tape, I saw an unconfident football team. A team desperately hoping the clock would save them and the Chiefs would run out of time.
This was a team up by 11, with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL, and played not to lose against an inferior, winless opponent.
You can call it a lack of confidence. Call it a lack of swagger.
I just call it the Payton factor.
Where the Game was Lost
Lance Moore said after the game all they needed was to make a couple of plays in the fourth quarter, kick a field goal and the game would have been over.
I respectfully disagree.
A field goal would have been nice. But all they truly needed was one first down to secure their first win of the year. Kansas City simply wouldn't have had enough time to come back and tie things up in regulation and win it in overtime.
That was the most frustrating thing about Sunday's debacle. It wasn't a quick-strike, what-just-happened kind of attack. The Chiefs methodically grinded away at the Saints lead with three field goals and a safety.
In the fourth quarter the Chiefs ran the ball 13 times. Their biggest offensive gain was a Charles 14-yard run and a pass interference on Patrick Robinson that netted 26 yards. It took them four drives (the Saints defense forced one three out) and just a shade over ten minutes to score 11 points. They gained 78 offensive yards on 26 offensive plays for an average of three yards a play.
During that time, the Saints offense literally went backwards. They ran eight plays for -16 yards. They played with the lead the entire fourth quarter and only ran the ball three times. The incompletions led to multiple clock stoppages, which allowed the Chiefs to have enough time to comeback.
Grading the Defense
This may sound crazy but the Saints defense improved on Sunday.
Yes, they gave up over 500 total yards, 273 on the ground. But they also allowed just one touchdown and forced three turnovers.
In this Saints era, that's a winning formula.
While they did play better, they are still miles away from where they need to be. And it starts with that putrid run defense.
As I watch closely what has stood out is the Saints are getting blown up at the point of attack. Sedrick Ellis, Broderick Bunkley and Tom Johnson are not providing a big enough push on the snap. By them getting pushed back, it doesn't give the linebackers the space to make plays.
The only player that's been consistently stout against the run has been Akiem Hicks. Steve Spagnuolo said this week he expects Hicks to get more snaps. That would be a welcomed change to this defense.
Rating the Referees
The Saints aren't losing games because of officiating. But it was hard to ignore how much the ebb-and-flow of Sunday's game was interrupted by the amount of indecision by the replacement referees.
Five times the officials overturned a call. All but one was the right reversal.
Unfortunately, the one that was wrong proved costly for the Saints.
You know the one I'm talking. Yes, Pierre Thomas caught that pass and scored. The call should have stood if for no other reason than there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the ruling.
From every angle I saw, there was no way of seeing if the nose of the ball touched the ground. The Saints got robbed. And when Garrett Hartley missed the field goal a few plays later, the Saints came away with zero points on a golden scoring opportunity.
Looking at the game as whole, however, it wasn't just the five overturned calls. It was the constant long pauses between calls that certainly had an impact on the rhythm of the game for both teams. But for a rhythmic offense like the Saints, it had at least some affect on their game.
- The Saints offensive line must get it together. They've had the biggest drop-off in production of any other unit on the team this season. Zach Strief fell on the sword after Sunday's loss and rightfully so. Justin Houston dominated him. But he was far from the only offensive lineman struggling. Jermon Bushrod has also struggled all season. If there is one spot where a regular starter gets demoted, the offensive line may be it. Although I don't see that happening quite yet.
- Devery Henderson had a nice return to the lineup. He had four catches for 53 yards, including a 36-yarder early in the game where he showed his field-stretching quality.
- Yes, that was a hold on Martez Wilson on Charles' 91-yard touchdown. A big one.
- Speaking of that play, it appeared Roman Harper had the angle on Charles but Charles completely outran him to the end zone.
- Back to Wilson, I have to be fair. I think he's the Saints most athletic defender and a force on the pass rush. But he needs a lot of work when it comes to run defense. He's not able to shed blocks on run plays when he is in the game.
- Junior Galette: 2 sacks, a forced fumble and tackle for loss. Need I say more? I asked Spags about Galette this week. He called him one of their most productive defensive players and that he has to get more in the game.
- It's clear the strength of the Saints defense right now is their starting cornerback tandem of Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson. Greer had the big interception that led to a Saints touchdown and two pass break ups. Robinson was locked up with Dwayne Bowe most of the game. While Bowe had seven catches for 79 yards, he was also targeted 16 times. He was also the victim of what should have been offensive pass interference twice. I thought Robinson did a solid job covering one of the Chiefs biggest playmakers.
- Kudos to Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt and kicker Ryan Succop. Succop nailed all six of his field goals, including four in the fourth quarter and overtime. Colquitt had two clutch punts that pinned the Saints inside their ten-yard line during that same time frame.
- Still not sure about that safety in the fourth quarter. Brees was on the defender and when he rolled over it looked like he got the ball over the goal line.
I completely understand if many in the Who Dat Nation have jumped ship on the season.
But one thing I know is the character in that locker room. That's not coaches speak or the company line. It's the truth.
They are capable of turning this thing around. But it must start now.
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