Last week, I predicted the Saints wouldn't be taken down by the over zealous Bucs and their quest for redemption. Well, it takes a big woman to admit when she's wrong. And I... unfortunately... am not that woman.
Someone more noble might say that we Saints fans should give the Bucs credit for playing a better game all around. They did everything they needed to do. They earned their spot at the top of the NFC South. They are a force to be reckoned with. And while I can concede that yes, they played a much more solid game then the Saints, I'm not willing to concede that the Bucs are a better team, primarily because they just aren't.
Saints fans likely sensed we'd be in for a dog day afternoon when all 265 pounds of Jimmy Graham went flying into Coach Sean Payton in the first quarter. When your coach is on IR, that can't be a good sign. Payton, who broke his knee in the collision, didn't return to the sidelines after the second half. His absence may or may not be at the heart of a crucial play call that sealed the Saints' fate. More on that later.
With the exception of a Brees to Colston bomb early on in the game, the Saints started out looking sloppy and sluggish. Pierre Thomas fumbled the ball, giving the Bucs a short field for their first score. Drew Brees threw his first of 3 interceptions, thanks to a bobbled Robert Meachem catch. And the defense did what they always do. They made me want to punch something. First they let Josh Freeman connect with a way too wide open Arrelious Benn for a 65 yard TD. Blown coverage led to yet another Bucs score later in the half, when Freeman hit Preston Parker. The Saints went into the half down 13 points.
In the second half, the defense tightened things up and the offense started to click. It was looking like the stage was set for yet another Drew Brees orchestrated comeback. After pulling within 6, Brees pulled off a magnificent drive, taking the Saints all the way to the Bucs' 7 yard line, with just a few minutes left in the game. But they couldn't punch it in and instead of going for the field goal to pull within 3, they went for it on 4th down. Brees threw another interception, despite a wide open Robert Meachem in the end zone. The Bucs got the ball back and ran the clock out.
This leads me to a few questions:
Knowing Payton, he probably would have gone for it. Why wouldn't he? After all, our offense is capable of pulling it off, even with Drew having a bad day. What is most frustrating is that we couldn't rely on our defense to help pull off this win. It confirms what we already knew: that our offense has been masking some GIGANTIC problems. Of course, this loss isn't all the defense's fault. They made some big plays and the offense couldn't get a running game going if Jason Voorhees were chasing Mark Ingram with an axe. But if we're going to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders, we're going to have to be able to rely on our defense to win games when the chips are down just as much as we rely on our offense.
On Sunday, we didn't get any turnovers. We didn't even manage to put any pressure on the quarterback... I mean not even a grass stain on Josh Freeman's jersey. We were blowing coverage left and right. We had Earnest Graham out there looking like Adrian Peterson. It was pretty pathetic.
I'm not worried about Drew Brees. He'll have these kinds of games but he always finds a way to keep us in them. The same thing can not be said for our defense. They've been giving up big plays since week one and today, the offense wasn't able to bail them out. I'm confident the Saints will still win the NFC South. But if the defense doesn't tighten up, it may not matter much once playoff time comes around.
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