Look, there are games real teams win on the road and the Saints are proving once again that they’re just not among the ranks of winning programs. You watched with dread and saw it all – the Drew Brees interception returned for a touchdown, the Mark Ingram fumble at the 7-yard line, the Nick Fairley time-consuming gaffe that ate up precious time at the end of the game. But maybe that time wasn’t so precious after all considering the Saints, on their last drive of the game with no timeouts, hit Willie Snead in the middle of the field and watched him fail to get to the sidelines to stop the clock. The Saints would follow that play with the same exact play. This time Brees would hit Michael Thomas, the rookie, and watch Thomas race towards the sidelines then – in his only mistake of the year – try to eke out a few last yards only to be tackled inbounds. Ball game.
But you knew all that. What I’m here to talk about, unbelievably, is the 2-4 New Orleans Saints still having a chance at making the playoffs. This is not some simpleminded Fansided or Bleacher Report article where some biased homer bellows, “We can really win the last 10 games!” This is reality and it’s as ugly as it is mind-blowing. It’s a bad conference in a NFL that is wracked by poor play. It’s a slog through the mud. It’s one team’s failure being parried by another team’s errors.
It’s the NFC South, 2014.
Lets take it back. How far back? Way back to that beautiful age when Prince’s funky afro ruled the stage and Donald Trump’s antics were relegated to some reality TV show and not splashed all over my Twitter timeline.
It was a year the Saints entered with high hopes only to skid mark their way through an all too common demoralizing start of a season. Much like today, that 2014 team also sat at 2-4 through 6 games. Much like today, that team’s offense could pile up yards and points but more often than not, at the end of the day, coach Sean Payton would stand in front of the press corps and talk about how the team had to play smarter and guys had to step up.
In the movie version of the season, the Saints would’ve rallied together and made the city proud but it didn’t get much better after that. A nice upset of Green Bay was the high point of a dreary season. But, no matter how bad the team was playing, when you looked at the sports section on Monday you were left scratching your head. The Saints were still in the playoff race. And after a surprising upset of Pittsburgh on the road, at the end of Nov. 30, the Saints were sitting at a scintillating 5-7 along with Atlanta at the top of the NFC South. The future was theirs!
Then the Saints and Falcons stumbled and bumbled down the stretch and let the 3-8-1, repeat that, 3-8-1 Panthers sneak up and take the NFC South. The Panthers finished 7-9.
Flash forward two years to a time without my musical hero and my internet history being packed with searches on housing prices in Vancouver and here we are again — the Saints can’t string wins together and yet are in the hunt for the NFC South.
A few weeks ago I threw out a line about the Saints having a playoff shot because I thought the NFC South, with the collapse of Carolina, could be won with a record of 9-7. It was more of a jab at the Atlanta Falcons, who were playing great at the time, but that joke is starting to become reality.
Ever since that daiquiri-induced vitriol, the Falcons dropped two games in a row and are staring into a four-game gauntlet where they will play three playoff-caliber teams (Arizona, Philadelphia, Green Bay) and the Buccaneers, who they lost to at home in Week One. Their decent start hid the fact that the Falcons are just another NFC South defense that loves to give up 30 points a game.
The Buccaneers have quietly crawled back into the hunt after getting repeatedly chin checked early in the season. Jameis Winston throws too many interceptions but was good enough to lead his team to wins over the 49ers and Panthers (teams with a combined record of 2-11). They’re a team trying to figure out an identity and it’s no stretch to think they’ll struggle with the Raiders this week and later with Chiefs in Kansas City. And do you really think they’re good enough to sweep the Falcons?
I honestly don’t know what to think of the Panthers but my gut is telling me that “dissension in the locker room” storylines are about to start floating around the internet. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a push. But that Cam Newton postgame interview is something that tells me their season lies with chaos more than order.
So, how about the Saints? You know exactly what we’re going to get. Like I said before, get ready for a string of games where the outcome, good or bad, will always be in doubt. Brees will put up the big yards and the defense will give up big plays. Can Brees’ performance beat teams like the 49ers and Panthers again? You bet. Broncos and Seahawks? That’s a bit of a stretch.
So, circle Nov. 30 on your calendar and get ready for some déjà vu all over again. It could be a day where the Saints, Falcons and Bucs are all tied at 5-6, with a 3-8 Panthers team lurking and ready to pounce on the division title.
It’s all too ugly to laugh at and too crazy not to be true. Here’s to history not repeating itself. Who Dat.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Stumblefoot Brewing’s “OG Grassyass” IPA
Playlist Recommendation: Stereo MC’s “Connected”
Around the Way
A big Full Sport Press shoutout to the cross country teams at Xavier University and Dillard University. The Xavier women and men won the team titles at the GCAC Cross Country Championships for an incredible tenth year in a row. Freshman Taylor Price won the Women’s 5K by almost 35 seconds with a time 20:07.89. Her teammate Maliya Vaughan finished second. On the men’s side, it was senior Christopher August taking victory in the 8,000 meters by more than 45 seconds. August clocked a season-best 28:32.23.
Over on Gentilly Boulevard, the accolades were showered upon sophomore Hydeia Barney and junior Sasha Newman, who finished fifth and eighth respectively in the Women’s 5K, to help Dillard finish third in the meet.
Xavier’s men and women’s teams, and Price and Vaughan from Dillard, now move on to the NAIA Cross Country National Championships, held in Elsah, Ill. on Nov. 19.