Why Do We Have Instant Replay?
I am not a fan of blaming a loss on the officials. In fact, let me make it clear that I don't believe that the Saints lost to the Broncos yesterday solely because of the officials. There were plenty of opportunities for New Orleans to take full control of that game, but four turnovers made it possible for the officials to cost the Saints at least a chance to force overtime. With New Orleans having just tied the game at 23 with 1:22 left in the game, Wil Lutz' extra point was blocked and Broncos' Will Parks returned it for a two-point play, putting Denver ahead 25-23. The problem is: Parks stepped out of bounds on his way to the endzone. There is a technology that would've allowed us to find out without the shadow of a doubt, whether Parks' foot did indeed touch the "white." It is used in major tennis tournaments around the world to see whether a ball hit in bounds or not. Even without such advanced tech, there should be suspended cameras that can show every sideline for such crucial plays in the NFL. This is a multi-billion industry and yet there was absolutely no opposite camera angle from the Saints sideline that would've confirmed what everyone (including Broncos players and fans) know: the game was ultimately decided on an officiating error. Which begs the question: Why do we have instant replay if even play reviews fail to confirm what at times is clear as day? There is too much at stake in the NFL moneywise, the hard work put up by players and coaches, the investment of fans who pay their hard-earned money to go to the games, to let games be decided by a referee that is too scared to make a tough, yet crucial call. Rant over.
Bad Time for his Rookie Moment
I absolutely love Saints rookie wide receiver Mike Thomas. He has been a gem, a player that is likely going to become a Saints Hall-of-Famer by the time his career in New Orleans is over. But on Sunday, Thomas reminded us all of what we had almost forgotten: he is a rookie. And rookies often have moments when they play like it. This couldn't have come at the worst time, because with Thomas' great play to start the season, Drew Brees has developed so much trust in him that he's gone to him on crucial downs, with a lot of tough throws. Unfortunately, Denver's top-ranked defense was the wrong unit to mess with. Thomas will hopefully learn from this performance, realize that his job is not only catching the ball and trying to gain some extra yards, but even more importantly, take care of that ball like his life depends on it.
Sean Payton is a loyal guy when it comes to his assistant coaches. But Saints special teams coordinator Greg McMahon is doing an average-to-poor job on the Saints' staff. If there are plays where yards tell the whole story, they are kick and punt returns. The Saints are fifth in the NFL with 20 total kick returns so far this season, which is the unfortunate result of a defense that gives up quite a few scores. Yet, New Orleans is 31st in yards-per-return with only 17.0. New Orleans is also 29th in the NFL in terms of longest kick return (31 yards). The Saints are slightly above average in punt returns (14th at 9.8 ypr) and 19th on field goals made this season (14 of 19, 74%). But against the Broncos, the special teams unit chose the absolute worst time to get their first blocked extra point of the year. The only area where the Saints' special teams had been perfect (29 of 29 on extra points attempts until yesterday) is now one more black eye on a completely mediocre unit.
Defense, You the Real MVP
Drew Brees and the Saints' offense get most of the airtime, and justifiably so. But for the past three or four games, the Saints' defense has been absolutely improved, bending but not breaking. Yesterday, the "other guys" played lights out while it was the offense that sputtered and put the ball on the ground over, and over again. New Orleans held Denver to 337 total yards, intercepted Trevor Siemian twice and sacked him six times. They kept giving the offense opportunities to stay in the game, holding Denver to only 10 points through three quarters, while the 15 points allowed in the fourth quarter were in no small parts due to the offense coughing the ball up twice and giving the Broncos great field position. Dennis Allen is trying to make chicken salad with chicken manures and the job he and his unit have done deserves to be commended. The Saints have not been the worst defense in the NFL in the last four games and I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's true.
I know you must be tired of hearing me talk about this, but the Saints being 4-5 right now is a very familiar spot, one they've been in the past two seasons. If we're talking about it, you can bet that the coaches and the players know about it. Now with a short week and a road trip at Carolina, we're about to see whether this 2016 Saints vintage can overcome the demons of the past. If the Saints can win at Carolina, they won't be facing another defense as fierce as the Broncos,' the Seahawks' or the Panthers' for the rest of the year. Getting to 5-5 and burying Carolina for all intents and purposes should be quite the motivation as well. In the past two seasons, the Saints have fallen apart after getting to .500. Following a pretty gutting loss to the Broncos, maybe the best remedy to reverse that tendency is not having the time to think about it and heading to Carolina with only three days to stew. A win at Bank of America Stadium and maybe this season isn't over just yet. We'll be watching! Who Dat!