The New Orleans Saints have their work cut out for them if they want to make the playoffs in 2015. The only way for the team to have even the slightest of chances to get to the postseason was to avoid the dreaded 0-4 hole against the Tony Romo-less Dallas Cowboys last night. The Saints did that in dramatic fashion, winning the game in overtime, minutes after missing a potential game-winning 30-yard field goal in regulation.
Through the euphoria of the win, here are five major things that I took from the game yesterday:
1) Let's Enjoy Drew Brees While We Have Him
I can already hear Brees' detractors uttering a deep, disappointed sigh. No, Brees isn't Breesus, he isn't perfect and at times he makes us want to throw things at out TV when he forces the ball and throws interceptions. But if you can't appreciate and enjoy greatness while it is standing (or playing) in front of you, then you're either blind or you have simply become too cynical. Playing with what was obviously a sore and diminished right shoulder, Brees used his mind much more than his arm last night: 33 for 41, 359 yards and two touchdowns with no interception. Most of his passes were of the shorter variety, but it's the accuracy and the ball placement that were uncanny. Even at 80% strength, Brees is still the engine that makes the Saints go, and the guy quarterbacking your team is an effin' six-feet tall lion-hearted tough son of a gun. Enjoy him while you got him y'all.
2) The Young Defenders Are Coming
So the Saints are rebuilding. Yes they are, they just haven't said so publicly, and most of us are still in denial about that fact. But when you are playing Stephone Anthony, Hau'oli Kikaha, Tyeler Davison, Bobby Richardson and Damian Swann, all of whom are rookies, you expect the kind of growing pains we've seen from New Orleans this year. Oh, add to that the fact that Delvin Breaux is in his first year in the NFL, that's six first time NFL players that are part of your regular defensive rotation. But guess what's encouraging? Kikaha led the Saints with eight tackles and one sack last night. Second in tackles was Anthony with seven and he also recorded a sack. Bobby Richardson was third with six tackles, while Damian Swann and Tyeler Davison were tied for fourth at four tackles a piece.
This Saints' defense may have its flaws, but if these young pups keep growing, the future is bright for the Saints on that side of the ball.
3) C. J. Spiller Is the X-Factor
Many of us wondered what the heck the Saints were thinking when they let Darren Sproles go after the 2013 season. Some still are. But when they signed Spiller to a big four-year contract this offseason, we wondered whether they had completely lost their mind: sure, Spiller could be Sproles' replacement, but the former Buffalo Bills running back had been injury-prone for most of his NFL career. Of course, before he even put on a Saints uniform, Spiller underwent a "minor knee procedure" this offseason.
But then, last night happened. Spiller quietly caught all five passes thrown his way for 99 yards, none bigger than the 80-yarder he took to the house to win the game in overtime. With his dual running and receiving abilities coupled with his speed, Spiller showed only a glimpse of what he'll be able to do once fully healthy. The Saints may not be going very far this season, but Spiller is signed for four years. Here's to hoping he can stay healthy and soon he might make a few people stop complaining about letting Darren Sproles go.
4) Tu Quoque Hocker?
The legend has it that that Julius Caesar uttered the words: "tu quoque mi fili?" (you too my son?) when he saw that his adoptive son Brutus was among those who had betrayed him. Last night, the Saints were once again betrayed by a kicker and it nearly cost them the game.
In the Payton era, the list of kickers who have been run out of New Orleans is long, the most famous being Garrett Hartley, who went from Super Bowl hero in New Orleans to a guy who just...hunts armadillos and possums in Texas after he started having the yips before kicking pressure field goals.
Zach Hocker won the job fair and square in training camp, beating out Dustin Hopkins (who now kicks for the Redskins). However Hocker has already missed two field goals this season and has had an extra point blocked. Needless to say that with Sean Payton's track record, Hocker better stop hooking them otherwise I hope for his sake that he likes the taste of armadillo meat.
5) This Team Still Wants to Win
From Junior Galette's online rants, to Akiem Hicks release to Jimmy Graham's bitter tweets, it seems the culture in the Saints locker room had deteriorated beyond repair in 2014. However, winning cures a lot of ills. More than that, it was awesome last night to see that at 0-3, this Saints team had the resolve to stay together and come back together after Hocker's missed field goal to win a game that could've easily slipped away. The players embracing at the end of the game, celebrating wildly showed that winning still matters to this team. Whether they make something out of this season or not, it was great to witness the players' excitement and to realize that the future may not be as bleak as it seemed just a short few days ago. On to Philadelphia!