Below are the grades for the season finale. The grades represent the player's individual performance in the game, and the GPA represents the player's final cumulative effort for the season.
Saints vs Panthers coverage
Mark Brunell: D (1.00) Yikes! I was actually stupid enough to hope this ancient fossil could hold his own in spot duty, but he just looked old and out of place. Any throw downfield was completely off target. Most of his throws were so erratic the defenders didn't even have a shot at making plays. Brunell looked completely immobile, off balance in the pocket, slow, grossly inaccurate and out of sync with the entirety of his teammates. I'm not going to give the guy an F though, considering he didn't turn the ball over but once at the very end of the game and it was his first start in over three years. The only passes he had that were of any success whatsoever were little screens and flares underneath, usually set up by misdirection play action fakes. It made me realize just how screwed we were if Brees... yeah, I'm not even going to say it. It's not like we didn't know it already, but Brunell was worse than I possibly could've imagined. I have to assume this game will cost him his job for 2010 if he even thinks about putting off retirement. The last thing I'll say, in Brunell's defense, is the Saints ran a very vanilla offense consisting of two receiver sets on almost every down. It's not like he ever really had a chance given the hand he was dealt and a poor running game behind him. He finished 15 of 29 for just 102 yards and 1 interception. Too bad Chase Daniel never got a chance to get some snaps, but my guess is the #2 QB next year will be someone not currently on the roster.
Reggie Bush: B+ (2.69) Bush looked really good running the football and even looked solid on punt returns. Granted Bush has been averaging about 2 to 3 rushes per game over the last several weeks, but he always seems to average 7 yards or more per carry. I wonder if maybe he should see more carries in the playoffs. He finished with an impressive 35 yards on 5 carries, and he made one cut and hit the holes with authority. He also did a good job on punt returns, though he best one was called back for a block in the back by Roby. Still, he wasn't running backwards. He returned 2 punts for 11 yards, sadly boosting his season average.
Mike Bell: D- (2.49) Bell didn't break any tackles, was often hit for a loss, and didn't get anything going. I don't know what happened to the human wrecking ball that looked fast, tough and authoritative in his running style, but he was shut down completely. Despite getting 17 carries, Bell finished with 28 yards (1.7 per carry). He also got blown up for -2 yards on 2 catches. This was by far his worst game of the season. In his defense he got no blocking and the Panthers sold out against the run when he was in, but the bottom line is he went through the motions and showed no real fire.
Lynell Hamilton: B (2.53) Hamilton was a little up and down, but his statistics turned out pretty good: 10 carries for 48 yards, 3 catches for 38 yards and the Saints' lone touchdown on the afternoon. Hamilton even got some looks out of the wildcat, which were arguably some of the Saints' most successful plays offensively. He was largely responsible for the Saints scoring on the touchdown drive by carrying the team on his back despite a bum shoulder. I think he showed the coaching staff he has some heart and that he belongs on the team.
Devery Henderson: C (2.77) Never really got a chance to show much of anything. The Saints were so terrified of getting him hit on punt returns in the second half that he was waving for a fair catch starting when the punter's foot made contact with the football. He finished with one catch for 18 yards and could have come down with another in traffic. The few times a ball was thrown his way, though, he had absolutely no chance of catching it.
Robert Meachem: D (3.02) Meachem had two receptions for just 12 yards, and both were disastrous plays. The first was a screen where he needed to get a yard going forward to pick up a first down, but was stood up in his tracks and tackled short of the first down marker forcing the Saints to kick a field goal on drive where they had a chance to tie the game at 7. His second catch turned into a lost fumble deep in Saints territory. He was probably the most targeted player on the day but absolutely nothing worked. He was overthrown, underthrown, and once had alligator arms on a deep ball he otherwise had a shot at. Can't really blame him, either, because Captain Munnerlyn took his head off and left him gun shy on a close-line tackle on a seam route where Brunell left him exposed. Regardless of how bad Brunell was, though, for Meachem to catch just 2 balls with the amount coming his way and to fumble once is inexcusable. No doubt he'll get that corrected in time for the playoffs.
Jermon Bushrod C- (2.51) In limited action, Bushrod wasn't very good. I think he'll be the X-factor in the playoffs. If he can hold his own the Saints will have a chance, but if he has a performance similar to what he had the last time he faced DeMarcus Ware, it could cost the Saints dearly. God forbid the Saints make the SuperBowl and he has to face Dwight Freeney or Shawne Merriman. I know he's been showing up on the injury report lately and I wonder if that's the reason for his drop in performance. Or maybe he's just run out of gas after a long season. Younger players who are used to college's 12-13 game season need adjusting to the 16 game + season in a league with more physicality. Regardless, his run blocking wasn't good and he got Brunell absolutely crushed on a token "throw the ball 10 yards over anyone's head and out of bounds" pass. Hopefully the two weeks off will do him some good.
Zach Strief: C (2.31) Strief came in as the full time right tackle in the second half, and he was mediocre. I still think he's our best option at left tackle right now. Just my opinion, but he's a mammoth build that's hard to move. I know he's got slow feet but he's always filled in nicely when the Saints needed him. Anyway, he didn't get a chance to showcase his pass blocking, but his run blocking wasn't anything to write home about.
Carl Nicks: B- (2.98) He played the whole game and had ups and downs. On the touchdown run by Lynell Hamilton, check out the replay if you get a chance. Nicks mauls two defenders and pushes them back about 4 yards into the end zone, clearing up the easiest trot for Lynell into the end zone. This guy is capable of dominating opponents on any play. Unfortunately, he was the one dominated all too often in this game. He got no help from his center whatsoever, whether it was Goodwin or Leckey. Nick Hayden and Hollis Thomas just aren't good enough to give the Saints this much trouble.
Jonathan Goodwin: C- (3.02) Goodwin was responsible for many of the Mike Bell disaster carries. He suffered major breakdowns in assignments. His pass blocking was also poor. Only played one half.
Jahri Evans: C (3.13) Evans, like many Saints, looked like he was playing not to get hurt and was just going through the motions. He too made some errors that cost the Saints any chance at moving the football. Only played one half.
Jon Stinchcomb: B (2.75) Stinchcomb only played one half as well, but he was in my mind the most consistent lineman. Showed good effort and was responsible for a couple of beautiful Reggie Bush runs by throwing devastating lead blocks. His pass protection wasn't picture perfect, but he got the job done mostly.
Darnell Dinkins: B- (2.14) Dinkins was a little spotty in run blocking, but he surprised me by actually making a couple plays in the passing game. By no means could he be mistaken for a weapon of any sort, but he did manage 4 grabs for 20 yards. Given how bad Brunell was getting the ball downfield, Dinkins was one of the few reliable options the Saints went to for positive yardage.
Kyle Eckel: C (2.20) Eckel got a lot of action in this one, and he just didn't really manage to get much done as a lead blocker. I don't see what the Saints see in him. I'd rather they just re-sign Darian Barnes, an old school hit you in the mouth run blocker. Yeah Barnes is never going to catch the ball or get any carries, but he'll throw a nasty lead block. Eckel is like a junior sized version of Heath Evans, and while he's got a little versatility, he's just not helping our run game. He did have a nice 7 yard reception, though.
Jamar Nesbit: B (3.00) Nesbit came in for Jahri in the second half and he actually helped keep Brunell mostly clean. He was, with Nicks, the main player they ran behind in the second half and he did a pretty good job opening holes, especially on the wildcat plays. On the play action roll out fakes, he also did a good job pulling to Brunell's blind side and keeping Tyler Brayton in check.
Nick Leckey: D (1.00) Leckey was not good, at all. He replaced Goodwin and the play at center somehow got worse. The amount of push Carolina was getting from two average at best NFL defensive tackles was sickening. Carolina was blowing up the middle of the Saints' line all game long, and Leckey was responsible for a large majority of that.
Tory Humphrey: C- (1.67) Did a poor job as a lead blocker. Granted it's not his position, but playing fullback was a failed adventure. He did make one reception for 7 yards before getting tackled by what seemed like 12 Panthers. I don't know if this guy will still be on the team come the playoffs.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Lynell Hamilton