End of an Era for New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees
With Drew Brees' expected retirement, the Saints are entering a new era. (Cooper Neill via AP)

 

Turnovers kill Saints’ playoff hopes

Three interceptions and a fumble by the New Orleans Saints were the difference in a 30-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs. The loss marks the Saints fourth straight unexpected ejection from the playoffs in as many years and suddenly forces the Saints to face a future without the greatest player to ever wear the Black & Gold.

Defense dominated the third matchup between the NFC South rivals. Tampa was able to take advantage of the Saints’ multiple mistakes. Gifted short field position, the Bucs scored three touchdowns on the Saints’ turnovers. Meanwhile, the Saints were unable to take advantage of early opportunities to put points on the board, and Tampa took away New Orleans’ hope to advance to the NFC Championship.

New Orleans picked up 294 yards – 190 passing and 104 rushing, while Tampa gained 316 yards – 189 passing and a surprising 127 rushing.

Quarterback Drew Brees finished 19-of-34 (55.9%) for 134 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Running back Alvin Kamara ran for 85 yards on 18 carries and added three receptions for 20 yards.

The Saints offense missed multi-position player Taysom Hill and running back Latavious Murray, who were out of the game due to injury, and an ineffective Michael Thomas, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, who had zero receptions for the first time in his career. Injured linebacker Kwon Alexander was definitely missed, too.

The Saints looked solid at the start. After holding Tampa to a three-and-out, Deonte Harris returned Tampa’s first punt 54 yards to start the Saints’ first drive at the Bucs’ 21 yard line, but they had to settle for a 23-yard Wil Lutz field goal. On their second punt, Harris returned the ball 67 yards for a touchdown, but the play was nullified by a block in the back penalty. That drive resulted in a 42-yard Lutz field goal.

Tampa cut the Saints lead in half on their third possession, a 15 play, 67 yard drive which took 6:42 off of the clock. On the ensuing drive, Saints quarterback Brees threw his first pick, which was returned to the Saints three. Tampa QB Tom Brady hit Mike Evans for a TD on the next play to go up 10-6.

The Saints scored on their next drive, highlighted by Jameis Winston connecting with Tre’Quan Smith on a trick-play 56-yard touchdown pass, to give the Saints a 13-10 lead.

The teams traded punts before Tampa kicked a 37-yard field goal to tie the game 13-13 at halftime.

New Orleans opened the third quarter with a 5 minute drive that culminated with Brees hitting Smith for a 16-yard TD to go up 20-13. The Saints forced Tampa to punt after a four-play drive, and started moving again when tight end Jared Cook fumbled near midfield. Five plays later, Brady hit Leonard Fournette for a six-yard TD pass to knot the game at 20.

After a stalled Saints drive, Tampa scored another field goal. New Orleans moved up the field again, but Bucs linebacker intercepted a pass intended for Kamara and returned it to the Saints’ 20 yard line. Four plays later, Brady pushed the ball over the goal line on a one-yard run to give Tampa a 30-20 lead. After another four plays, Brees threw his third interception. The Bucs were able to push the game to the two-minute warning, and with New Orleans out of time outs, Brady was able to run out the clock and secure the 10-point upset.

 

Quotes of the Week

“I thought defensively we played exceptionally well. Unfortunately, those types of things in a game like this, end up being the difference. They (Tampa) scored three touchdowns off of our first three turnovers. It’s just tough to win a game against a good team like that when you do that.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on the impact turnovers had in the team’s loss

 

“We turned the ball over four times. That is not a winning formula for any game, I don’t care who you play. It’s just going to make it tough. (We) turned it over once, (and) we were still in it. We turned it over twice, we were still in it. Once you get to three and four turnovers, it’s hard to combat that. I don’t care who you are. We’ve done a good job of being pretty protective of the ball. It was terrible timing to have those four (turnovers). Like I said, it sucks, but it is what it is.” – Saints running back Alvin Kamara on the Saints’ ability to compete when turning over the ball multiple times

 

“Losing never gets easier. We just talked about it in the locker room. The reason everybody makes it this far as that they don’t accept losing. It’s going to sting. It’s going to hurt. It’s tough. You always have to put things in perspective. At the end of the day, we are still getting a chance to play a game. We are going to spend the rest of the night worrying about how we lost the game and what we could have done different. There are people that are dealing with a lot more tonight. You have people out there wondering what they are going to eat tonight. When you put things in perspective, then we have nothing to do but keep our heads high. You have to give credit to Tampa Bay. They played a phenomenal game. They earned the victory. It is going to hurt. You just have to find a way to shake it off and rise through the ashes. I live life by 10 percent is what happens to you and 90 percent is how you respond to it. When you get knocked down, the only way that you are going to find success is to get back up.” – Saints linebacker Demario Davis on reacting to the playoff loss

 

The Greatest Saint

The first question New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees fielded in the post-game press conference after last night’s divisional round playoff loss was whether or not he had played his last game.

“Well, I’ll answer this question one time, and that is that,” he replied. “I’m going to give myself an opportunity to think about the season, think about a lot of things, just like I did last year, and make a decision.”

While he has yet to make it official, all outward signs appear that he is ready to trade in his helmet for a broadcast announcer’s headset. During the game, cameras caught a bleary-eyed Brees apparently telling backup QB Jameis Winston, “This is your team now.”

As he headed to the locker room, he removed his helmet to blow kisses to the fans. Just before heading down the tunnel, he glanced over his shoulder taking one final glimpse of the Superdome as if trying to hold on to the unexpected glory he’s achieved for just a bit longer.

Minutes after he left the podium, as he does after each home game, he was on the field with his family. As his boys played catch and his daughter turned cartwheels, Brees held his wife, Brittany, in an extended hug, seemingly trying to reflect and enjoy the moment. They were soon joined by Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, who embraced the Breeses, engaged them in an intimate conversation, and threw a touchdown pass to one of Brees’ sons, before heading to the airport for a flight home.

Brees has one year remaining on his contract and although he hasn’t said it, it appears he has played his last game. It’s the end of a golden era.

Not enough can be said about Brees’ impact on New Orleans and the Saints.

He joined the team, which had won just one playoff game in its history, in 2006, months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Like his new home, Brees was attempting to make a comeback from a dislocation and tear of the labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. The Miami Dolphins, then coached by Nick Saban, showed interest in Brees, but he didn’t pass the team physical. If he was going to return, it was going to be in New Orleans.

Paired with rookie head coach Sean Payton, the two immediately transformed the culture of the club and the city. Brees lifted spirits on and off the field, led the Saints to their first NFC Championship in his first season, and had more influence on Monday moods in New Orleans since the advent of red beans and rice. In a city that once felt beaten and abandoned, the battered quarterback showed the city how to pick itself up and not only endure, but become a winner. That was epitomized in 2009, when the Saints went to and won their first Super Bowl. For that, he’ll forever be a hero in the Crescent City.

There are some who say the Saints underachieved under Brees, like in 2011 and 2017-20 when they were eliminated from the playoffs on the last play of the game. That’s a hefty statement in a league as volatile as the NFL. While the ball didn’t always bounce the Saints’ way, Payton and Brees have altered the trajectory of the franchise. For much of their history, the Saints were underachievers. But with Brees under center, the Saints couldn’t be counted out. Where fans once wore brown paper bags emblazoned with “Aints,” the team has been a perennial contender, winning nine division titles and selling out every game in his 15 years in New Orleans.

Along the way, Brees he has re-written team and league record books. Since joining the Saints, he has led all NFL quarterbacks in touchdowns, passing yards, and 300-yard games. He holds the NFL records for career pass completions, career completion percentage, and career passing yards, and is second in career touchdown passes.

He has been rewarded with 13 Pro Bowl appearances, the 2006 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, the Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year and Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 2010, and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 and 2011. He is expected to be a first-ballot Hall of famer when he becomes eligible in 2026.

Brees could surprise all and play the remaining year on his contract in 2021, but after missing 10 games over the last two seasons – first with a torn ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand and then 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung – it’s grown more apparent that Father Time is gaining on him. He has already agreed to join NBC Sports as a football analyst when he is done playing, all signs point to him being in a studio or press box next year so fans will still see him on Sundays.

If this is the end, I hope the Breeses continue to make New Orleans their home, and that Drew becomes one of the city’s elder statesmen, much like Archie Manning did when his playing career ended. Brees is beloved – not only for making the Saints winners, but making New Orleans a winner, too.

 

Drew Brees’ Career Highlights and Awards

Super Bowl XLIV champion (2009)

Super Bowl XLIV MVP (2009)

NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2008, 2011)

Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2006)

NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2004)

First-team All-Pro (2006)

Second-team All-Pro (2008, 2009, 2011, 2018)

Pro Bowl (2004, 2006, 2008–2014, 2016–2019)

NFL passing yards leader (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014–2016)

NFL passing touchdowns leader (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012)

NFL passer rating leader (2009, 2018)

NFL completion percentage leader (2009–2011, 2017–2019)

Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (2010)

AP Male Athlete of the Year (2010)

Bert Bell Award (2009)

Art Rooney Award (2018)

Bart Starr Award (2011)

Maxwell Award (2000)

 

NFL records

Most career passing yards (80,358)*

Most career pass completions (7,412)*

Highest single-season completion percentage (74.4%)

Most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54)

Most pass completions in a season (471)

Most 5,000 passing yard seasons (5)

Highest completion percentage in a game (96.7%)

Most touchdown passes in a game (tied – 7)

First player to reach 80,000 career passing yards (286 games)

 

*entering 2020 playoffs

 

The Extra Point: What’s Next for NOLA?

There is a whole generation of Saints fans who know of no one else but Drew Brees as the New Orleans Saints quarterback, but a new era appears to be on the horizon for the Black & Gold. For the past 15 years, the longest stretch in franchise history, there was no question about who was the starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. But with Brees on the precipice of ending his playing career, the biggest question facing the Saints is who will be under center when they take the field again.

There will be a lot of factors that go into determining that answer. The team is facing a ticking time bomb as it is nearly $100 million over the expected salary cap for the 2021 season, so the team will have to look at several positions – not just at quarterback – to determine which players they can keep and which they’ll need to let go.

The heir apparent at QB may already be on the roster in Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston. General manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton may decide to work out a deal with one of a number of high profile quarterbacks looking for a new start with a new team. There are several big names that could be available this offseason – Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tyrod Taylor, Josh Rosen, not to mention the crop of college players who will join the league – who could be wearing black and gold next season.

Some deals will have to be restructured and some well-known names may be traded or let go to create cap space to make a deal to plug in a proven winner at quarterback. The Saints have a strong core with coaches and players in place to continue winning for the foreseeable future. The team is losing the most decorated player in franchise history. Regularly winning 12 or 13 games may not be the expectation going forward, but that doesn’t mean the Saints will slide into mediocrity. It just means the team will have to find a way to continue winning with a new leader on the field.

 

Categories: Pre-Snap Read