NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - WHAT WENT WRONG?
Entering this season, the Saints were a trendy pick to make a Super Bowl run into February, but the reality is a disappointing 7-9 campaign that is now over in December.
"If you want to say where did we go wrong this year, we did some little things wrong early that set us down a path to not be successful," veteran tackle Zach Strief said. "Obviously as the year goes on, you look at some games and say that's not a little thing, you know we lost some games by large margins, that's not a little thing, and that's true, but that's all started and snowballed from early in this season and losing some close games in bad ways, ways that we haven't been around here in the past. We turned into a team that we almost used to gameplan against, saying this team will hurt itself. We became that team."
From too many close losses to start the year, to ongoing inconsistent play and then a shocking 5-game home losing streak, the Saints never sustained any momentum or seemed to get on track. Drew Brees led one of the NFL's top offenses, but there were far too many turnovers, 30 (17 Interceptions, 13 fumbles).
Meanwhile, Rob Ryan's defense, which was a top five unit a year ago, fell all the way down to 31st this year. Injuries also took a toll with prized free agent safety Jairus Byrd playing just four games before tearing his knee.
Some of the bigger issues were internal. Maturity and leadership became question marks, as the gap between veterans and younger players on this team seemed to widen over the course of the fall. Head Coach Sean Payton addressed a variety of these issues, including his personal disappointment with a losing season.
"There's a pit in your stomach," Payton said. "I hate it because so much time and energy is put into that upcoming season the process, and really it's one thing to be removed from the process for a year without any control, but to be in this position here having this meeting on the eve of the week of the first round of the playoffs, it's been a while. It's not something that you want to experience again, and it's something that drives you, fuels your fire if you will, and there's nothing worse."
Payton also hinted that changes will come for the Saints, but did not discuss any specifics. The team is currently a projected 20-million dollars over the salary cap for 2015, so expect a few cap casualties and other veterans to restructure their contracts. The Saints will also have the 13th overall pick in next Spring's NFL draft.
WILL ROB RYAN RETURN?
The Saints' defense took a major hit this fall as shoddy tackling, a lack of pressure up front and the inability to prevent big plays all led to its demise. Middle linebacker and team captain Curtis Lofton is just one of many players looking for answers.
"I think after every year you have to reevaluate," Lofton said. "And then you go back and first self evaluate, go back and look at yourself, just look at everything and see what you gather from why things went the way they did, and how you can be better next year, and that's what I'll do once I'm away."
New Orleans finished 31st in total defense, also in the bottom quarter of the league in both sacks and points allowed. One of the biggest problems was the severe lack of takeaways, those game-changing plays.
Last off-season, Jairus Byrd, the prized free agent safety, was brought in specifically to add that element to the Saints 'D', but his season lasted all of four games after being shut down with a serious knee injury. Sean Payton said that Byrd is doing well, and they expect the safety to make a full recovery. As for embattled Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Payton strongly stated that today is not the time to talk about the future of any of his players or coaches.
"I didn't mention anything about Rob Ryan," Payton said. "I didn't mention anything about a specific coach. And so I'll say this again, just so you're clear. Now is not the time for us to discuss a player or a coach or his future, it's not, and with that being said, you really can't take my answer as such and draw a conclusion from it."
Lofton added, "When Rob came in, we were a 4th-ranked defense, so I don't know how much change needs to happen, but I don't know if it will happen, but I know that if everybody plays like they're supposed to, we could have been happy right now."