All things rise and fall. Everything has a beginning and an end. In art, just as in sport, we – the fans – weigh in on the good and bad. We ask, how could it be better? If there were only another way, we would say.
If I asked you to name the greatest American author, many of you would say Faulkner, Fitzgerald or Flannery O’Connor, but the majority would name Ernest Hemingway. The artist whose meteoric rise to fame seared his legacy into legend, and – as with most legends – clouded the public’s view of the artist as well. Hemingway through the mid-to-late 1920s cranked out the literary classics, “The Sun Also Rises,” and “A Farewell Arms,” (in football – both could be considered Superbowl victories), while also delivering such stories as “The Killers,” and “Hills Like White Elephants,” (both easily solid NFC Championships). However, as the 1930s crept on, and Hemingway’s popularity soared, one could argue his growing fascination with himself, led him to some misses. “Green Hills of Africa,” a simple hunting trip magnified to cover 300 pages, is somewhat out of the game plan. A loss, if you will.
Which brings us the Saints and the disaster that was Sunday against the Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers are (were) a team the Saints owned. The Saints had seven straight victories in the series, including a 41-0 blowout in 2012 (yes, that year). The Saints were facing a Buccaneers team led by a rookie quarterback, having to deal with Saints Nation in the Dome. Easy money, right? Or was that mentality all built upon visions of earlier Saints teams? An illusory trick that hardcore fans bring upon themselves – thinking of the best days, instead of the Now.
Which would be easy for a fan to do. They look around and see the packed house, hear the noise and feel victory is near. They think of greatness. Just like Hemingway in his later years – thinking of greatness, but then, eventually, where it went. I believe the Saints may have been caught in that same trap that caused Hemingway’s decline. A cocky mentality, while noble, masked flaws and weaknesses. A “we will get by” and “we’ve still got Drew,” thought process that does keep one optimistic, but also overlooks bad drafts and mismanagement of the salary cap.
But drafts, salary caps and pie in the sky trade talk are for when you’re suffering through the baseball season. Let’s stick with the hard evidence and keep it on the gridiron, shall we?
Make no mistake about it – Sunday was a disaster. The new storyline, for the Buccaneers at least, will be the growth of Jameis Winston and “just how good can the Bucs be?” Spoiler alert – that team is nowhere close to the playoffs. That team is still closer to the 10-point underdog on the road to the Saints, than they are a team that can go 8-8. Unfortunately, the Bucs handled the Saints. Or, the Saints lost the game themselves, whichever you prefer.
The Saints storylines are one of neglect. The offensive line is still struggling, and the primary weapon Drew Brees, who is reported to have an injury, is taking shots and not confident in the pocket. The worst part about this is that this isn’t some new development. Max Unger is a fine addition, but he’s not stopping anyone storming around the edge. This lack of protection is leading to a systemic breakdown of the entire offense. The Saints O-line isn’t bullying anyone into submission via the run game. So, the run game has to be built upon respect for the passing offense. If your pass offense isn’t a threat, since the opposing defense is harassing you with just four pass rushers, there is no respect and – you get it. It’s a brutal tailspin, and one that leads to Brandin Cooks, the most electric player the Saints have, disappearing for quarters at a time and leading defensive coordinators to having a great time while in the Crescent City.
Another storyline, but here posed as a question, what is the nature of the Saints offense? Through two games it seems as if the coaching staff is sending mixed signals. Are they going to stick to the run? That was the talk heading into the season, but the game plans the past two Sundays, seem to be one of a team still figuring it out. And if the Saints remain committed to the run, should the feature back be Mark Ingram or Khiry Robinson? And with C.J. Spiller returning to health, how do you split up the touches? If the team abandons the run, and puts it all on Brees yet again, shouldn’t they shuffle the offensive line to get their first round pick, Andrus Peat, into the starting lineup? NFL teams transform tackles into guards all the time. It’s obviously a blessing if you can sit a rookie on the sideline and let him develop slowly, and without humiliation, pick up the game, but sitting at 0-2, and having Brees constantly under pressure, the Saints just don’t have it like that.
But seeing the positive – and it has been out there on the field, before your eyes – isn’t an illusion. Rookie linebacker tandem, Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha are putting in the work, and have made impact plays these past two weeks. Kasim Edebali took over for a series, and basically put the Bucs into punt mode himself in the second quarter. And those are all young dudes that are only going to get better. Cameron Jordan seems to get stronger as the game goes along, getting pressure and heat on the opposing quarterbacks, and led the defense in their fourth quarter rally. On the offensive side of the ball, Khiry Robinson provided an instant boost, once he finally got the ball in his hands.
Unfortunately, those are all just parts, or individual plays, or a series where one element of the whole sparks and shows greatness. Only to, like later Hemingway, become the norm, or the forgotten. The coaching staff has a lot of work to do. There are many pieces that need to be fixed. A laser-like focus given to each detail of the machine pulls each part up into greatness. For this is not a broken team – just a team that has work to do in every facet of the game.
There are still questions that need to be answered, storylines to build, and make true. And, like in “Farewell to Arms,” Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Lets hope the hometown heroes figure out a few, if not all, of those places before this Sunday.
And like all good sport, every game should be accompanied by fine beverage and song…
Beer Pairing: Two Brothers Brewing Bitter End Pale Ale
Playlist recommendation: “Heads Will Roll,” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Around the Way
The Southern Jaguars hung 50 on the visiting Jackson State Tigers (and their cool uniforms), in front of 30,198 fans at A.W. Munford Stadium. The Jags won 50-31, while quarterback Austin Howard threw for 395 yards and a touchdown. Howard also added two touchdowns on the ground.
The LSU Tigers absolutely dismantled the Auburn Tigers on Saturday. Heisman-favorite, Leonard Fournette rushed 19 times for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns, while flattening at least 5 defenders. Check it out. And, if you like to tweet, here’s a cool hashtag – #4nette4heisman
Shout out to the hometown Tulane Green Wave for their victory, in Uptown, over the Maine Bears, 38-7. The Green Wave finally got to wear the other shoe, after playing Georgia Tech and Duke, and after a slow start, dominated the Bears. Sherman Badie proved unstoppable, racking up 189 yards rushing and receiving, with one touchdown.