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New Orleans Saints Divisional loss: Utter self-destruction

The New Orleans Saints were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional round in a Sunday night heartbreaker.

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

With the New Orleans Saints 30-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional round, Drew Brees walked off the field of the Superdome for what might have been his final time.

The way in which New Orleans lost was somewhat shocking and uncharacteristic. Ironically, it was quite similar to the exact way Tampa Bay lost in Week 9; of the three interceptions by Tom Brady in the 38-3 loss, the Saints scored a touchdown on two turnovers. In Sunday’s loss, New Orleans had four turnovers. With the final interception essentially ending the game, of the three meaningful turnovers, Tampa Bay converted touchdowns on all three.

Nothing more, nothing less. Turnovers will win and lose football games. Unfortunately, everything else we saw from the Saints put the nail in the coffin. The defense did what it could; the loss of Kwon Alexander was apparent. The previously airtight run defense was gashed for 127 rushing yards; if you want to look for primary difference-markers in this third matchup, the Buccaneers running game is at the top of the list.

All things considered, particularly with what we’re used to, the Saints defense did its job. Despite four turnovers. One will always wonder the ‘What-Ifs’ on what should have been multiple interceptions by New Orleans tonight. That all aside, it’s time to call a spade a spade.

There’s no blown referee call to project upon. No breakdown in coverage that incurred a three-year identity. This falls solely on the shoulders of the Saints. One led by an offense not close to resembling a Super Bowl unit.

There’s a lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda. The loss of Deonte Harris early in the first half, after the immediate impact he had, can’t be discounted. Certainly, one could argue the presence of either Taysom Hill or Latavius Murray wins this game; particularly considering how limited of a role Alvin Kamara had in the passing game as an ill-fitted every-down back. Jared Cook doesn’t fumble that ball, Saints likely win the football game.

Despite validity, its ultimately just excuses. This was not a championship offense. Tre’Quan Smith led the team with three catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Thomas was 0 on 4 carries. Did he even have any business being on the field today? Genuinely, what happened to Marquez Callaway? Only two targets his way as well.

It’s ugly to write. Drew Brees was a reason New Orleans lost this football game. He’s not the only reason, despite immediate reactions, but his decision-making was uncharacteristically poor. And unfortunately, this game, should it be Brees’ last, will be all that is remembered in his legacy for the near future.

The dominant Week 1 win, the 38-3 absolute defeat. All of that is swallowed by this ugly loss. One that had no business happening. It’s hard to say how much this loss defines the team we see today. All cornerstones of the New Orleans Saints were decidedly absent.

The passing game was pitiful. The run game, non-existent. Special teams had no impact; a frequent Taysom Hill embellishment unit. Despite the return of Trey Hendrickson, the pass rush notably backslid into oblivion. Whatever fire that was fueling the energy on defense all season seemed tempered. None of the defensive criticism matters with the performance on offense.

This is one of those games where a re-watch is more than necessary to discern just where things went wrong. Why were the receivers completely shut down? Is there legitimacy to the threat of the run by the quarterback?

Brees had noticeable difficulty navigating the pocket. The o-line failed him, his receivers failed him, and he failed himself. Similar to what we saw in the loss to Minnesota. Unfortunately, he sorely lacked the legs to bail himself out.

Saints fans overwhelmingly harp on Taysom Hill for his fumbles. Jared Cook is a 12-year veteran who has no business having such poor ball security in a divisional playoff game. All things considered, his fumble lost the game, and he did nothing of value to compensate. For all the heat on Hill, the same can never be said for him; his positive impact nearly always outweighs the fumble risk.

Guaranteed Sean Payton would have taken the risk with Taysom Hill multiple times in this contest. It’s why New Orleans lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. No receivers could get open, and Kansas City knew Drew was never taking off with the football. They sat back on the receivers, and the Saints had no passing game. That all changes when Hill is under center. It begs the question of the direction fans see, and want to see, this offense taking in the post-Brees era.

The trick play touchdown by Jameis Winston was incredible. But is there something to be said about mobility in the pocket? And would that have been more vital to a win today, rather than a rocket for an arm?

At the end of the day, Taysom probably wins this football game for the Saints. Past that, nothing from this offense offered any confidence for a legitimate Super Bowl run. It’s on New Orleans to decide how this loss defines the team, and the consequent direction.

It’s no longer a narrative; it’s the truth. The Saints offense, as it stands, cannot compete in the postseason. The question in Sunday’s loss, is how much of this falls on the quarterback, the schemes, the receivers, injuries, or the offensive line. Finding the point of critical mass is essential to a rebound.

This was ultimately supposed to be the year the Saints went all the way. The roster was elite and unmatched in depth; the continuity and leadership perfectly complemented the incoming rookie talent. Through all the noise, Drew Brees and Sean Payton were signs of steady comfort.

All of this was flipped on its head in an inexplicable postseason loss. One New Orleans will have difficulty explaining away. If this was indeed the last of Drew Brees, what a disappointing send-off.

I’ll save my thoughts on Brees for a less emotional night, and words that deservedly do him justice. But this one hurt. Tonight, I’ll be grateful for Super Bowl XLIV.

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