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Saints Week 10: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Nothing like a cursed, injury-riddled game to take the wind out of our 38-3 sails.

San Francisco 49ers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Well, that was certainly a somber win. Seems like whatever we preemptively sacrificed for last week’s blowout win came back to haunt us this game. That, or the Greenbrier curse is alive and well in San Francisco. The New Orleans Saints won their sixth straight game and advanced to 7-2 after their 27-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately, the win did not come without cause for concern. It did, however, have some huge positives to counteract. Let’s get to it.

The Good: This Defense Can Win Championships

When this game first started, the play on defense was tumultuous to say the least. The 49ers have always been the Saints kryptonite – and they match up perfectly to our weaknesses. But it was nonetheless a bit troubling to watch New Orleans play pretty loose man coverage and consistently turn 2nd and longs into 3rd and shorts. Things were going downhill for a while. Then Drew Brees went down and the game rested on the defense’s shoulders; whatever adjustments were made at halftime were clearly heard on all fronts. That, and the 4th down stop proved critical to the team chemistry and momentum to propel them through the game.

C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Demario Davis, and the New Orleans Saints put on a defensive clinic that saw just 3 points scored by San Francisco in the second half of this game. I watched this game twice already (masochism is a hell of a drug) – once at the Superdome, and once on tape to compute what happened while I was busy screaming my vocal chords out of the stadium on 3rd down. In person, this was Demario Davis’ game of the season – he was all over the field. So much so, he had 8 solo tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack. But upon rewatch, this was just an absurd showing by Gardner-Johnson and Davis. Gardner-Johnson recorded six solo tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, three quarterback hits; they were just a two-headed monster in the backfield.

It was exciting to watch such huge playmakers on defense; what stood out most was the complete performance by the unit as a whole. Players who had early-season struggles like Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams are no longer a liability, and all the offseason buzz we heard about this burgeoning New Orleans defense is finally starting to come together. In fairness, it’s not as if we were playing a quarterback of prowess like Tom Brady (I’m refraining from making jokes). But this outing was a perfect representation of what we thought we were getting from this defense all year – perfectly illustrated by the leadership of Davis in the backfield, and complemented by the scrappiness of Garner-Johnson that represents the identity of the younger core of players. Quietly, this Saints defense is becoming extremely competitive. And as we all saw, unfortunately, they may need to carry us for what looks like the next 2-3 weeks at minimum.

We all remember the days where this defense lost us the game – not only was this not the case, they decidedly won it for us in spades. And that’s extremely reassuring heading into the now-relatively unknown that is the Saints final season stretch. Also, it was just some fun lagniappe to see Kwon Alexander have a killer debut against his former squad.

The Bad: Sloppy Plays & Poor Ball Security

Were the injuries not enough, New Orleans? Did you want us to lose 30 years off our lives on every single special teams play? Deonte Harris had some good plays, and I’m certainly one to commend players who get right back out there and brush off a turnover like it’s nothing – Brees post-interceptions being Exhibit A – but he then almost fumbled the ball twice more. Then Taysom Hill fumbled, and almost fumbled twice prior to that. And then, Jameis Winston nearly threw a few interceptions, and every time a quarterback was sacked this game, ball security was a legitimate concern. Were the 49ers just knocking the living daylights out of them and we were lucky that these were all mainly almosts? Perhaps. But after the Brees injury, it felt like the team assumed this unnecessary sense of urgent energy that led to frantic scrambles and just sloppy play a lot of the time.

Sean Payton is decidedly unfazed at all times, sometimes to an almost maddening degree. But after today, I get it. His oftentimes stubbornness to commit to a bit – be it the run game, Taysom time, conservative playcalling – forces the team to stay steadfast and not get flustered. The message did not seem to translate today. This trend is just the definition of shooting yourselves in the foot. Turnovers are typically the difference maker in games; as a Bill Parcells disciple, Payton is always focused on stealing possessions from opponents. Well, every time we taketh away, we would then giveth right back on the next play. Every punt was simply a professional version of hot potato, and there was a glaring failure to prioritize ball security throughout the game. It’s not something to necessarily write home about or clutch pearls over, but it was extremely irritating upon rewatch. I’m willing to just chalk it up to generally being scatterbrained after losing Brees, but can this trend just please not continue against the Falcons of all teams?

The Ugly: The Drew Brees Injury (...and all the other ones)

I’m pretty concerned about Drew Brees after seeing that gruesome sack in person. Should it have been a roughing the passer call? Probably not – though it’s nice to see Brees get the Tom Brady treatment for once in his career. But a lot of troubling things stood out to me, and were only strengthened upon rewatch. We’ve all seen Brees’ odd new shoulder tape accessory he’s donned the past several games. He then warmed up for this matchup in a flak jacket, and had a massive bruise on his shoulder. His pregame routine stood out to me almost immediately – just a lot of genuinely weird looking, previously unseen shoulder stretches; I don’t know how to better describe it than whipping his hair back and forth, except it was his shoulders in a dramatically wide fashion. Immediately, it felt odd, and my feelers were up from that point on. Then the huge hit happened, and he did not get up quickly at all. When they replayed the hit on screen, you could see him gritting his teeth while rolling on the ground. I know that the immediate designation was ribs, and he certainly held them while grimacing on the sidelines. But he just looked completely out of sorts; he kept readjusting his shoulder like he tends to do, except he was doing it 75 times in a minute.

What was most disheartening was my rewatch of the near-fumble that led to an Alvin Kamara touchdown right before the half. That entire drive, Brees throwing motion was incredibly limited; he was making very deliberate, short throws to the same spot on the field, and was shaking his shoulder out after essentially every throw. I think, had he not dropped the ball after the snap in the red zone, he may have played some in the second half. He certainly looked like he was chomping at the bit on the sidelines and refused to sit down or tend to his ailments whatsoever. Hearing that he self-benched himself and felt like it wasn’t so much pain, but that he felt non-functional, really pointed to that fumbled snap. It was quite reminiscent of a clip I never want to see again after the thumb injury in 2019 where he tried to pick up a football on the sidelines and it just fell through his hand entirely. Brees looked like he could barely get a grip on the snap, and just had no power in his throwing shoulder to be able to even hold on to the football. He then proceeded to hold one of the most somber press conferences, if not the most morose, I’ve ever seen.

So buckle up Saints fans, it looks like we’re on the Jameis Winston train, like it or not. I’m going to reserve judgement on Winston until we see him in a full game with a gameplan tailored to his skillset. Do you remember how poorly Teddy Bridgewater played when he came in midway through the Rams game after Brees went down with the thumb injury? Bridgewater is also much more similar to Brees than Winston. Winston, for better or worse, is not a precision passer; he’s much more a Favre gunslinger type. So what we saw today will look much different than a Winston-tailored offense should he be at the helm next week. As such, it’s not really fair to harp on his play when he was thrust into a game not built around him. While the Taysom Hill experiment is fine and dandy, how many true reps has Jameis Winston been getting in practice, particularly in the red zone? You just have to think that with their inclination to keep developing Hill, and fit him into the gameplan, that there’s just not that much time leftover for Winston to get comfortable and click with the offense. Am I comfortable going into this Falcons matchup? Not necessarily. But I’m fairly confident the Saints can win two out of the next three games, which would be a fair trajectory for Brees, should it not be too serious.

However, that would require essentially no more injuries from here on out down the stretch. The 49ers have run out of players to afflict with their injury curse this season, so that just transferred over to the Saints today. We lost Tre’Quan Smith and Josh Hill to concussions – both of whom aren’t the most crucial to our passing game, but are vital to the running game, particularly Hill with his blocking abilities. We had a lot of “unspecified” injuries, which can either be positive or negative (fun, I know) – Terron Armstead briefly, Andrus Peat missed a few snaps, and Gardner-Johnson went down with what looked initially like an elbow injury. Marshon Lattimore left the game with an oblique injury, and Malcolm Brown with his calf. It got to the point where I just wanted to put out of third string and take the L if necessary, because the injury pileup was getting quite concerning for the longevity of this team.

The Saints can rally around a Brees-less team – we saw them do just that last year. What they cannot do is make a postseason run with a practice squad. Here’s to hoping that the unspecified injuries were just momentary ailments, and that Brees’ return timetable, at minimum, is looking ahead at Week 15. We will not beat the Chiefs with Jameis Winston. It just sucks that Drew can just never seem to catch a break.

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