Five numbers that will make you rejoice that 2021 is gone forever.
The 2021 New Orleans Saints are dead. Welcome to the 2022 New Orleans Saints, who still have one regular season game to play this season and could go 1-0 in 2022. If they do, they might find their way into the playoffs, provided that the Los Angeles Rams beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. A win for the Saints in Atlanta against the Falcons on Sunday is far from a given, the Dirty Birds have made life difficult for New Orleans over the years. On the other hand, a Rams’ win over the 49ers is even more improbable, as San Francisco has won the past five meetings between the two teams. But that the Saints are even here after the hellish year that was 2021 is a minor miracle. Between the myriads of injuries, the COVID-19 reserve list missed games (including the head coach), the Saints could play in the Wild Card round in about two weeks. That is why sports, as heartbreaking as they can be sometimes, are still awesome. Let’s look at some of the numbers that got New Orleans on the brink of the postseason.... or the brink of vacation.
0 - Consistency is Key
The New Orleans Saints have played 16 games to this point. Until the 2020, this would have been an entire NFL season. And in 16 games, the Saints have scored exactly zero touchdowns on their first drive. Yes, a Sean Payton-led offense has been unable to get the ball into the end zone in 16 game-opening drives. Pigs have flown before in New Orleans, so should we actually be shocked? But hey: there’s one more chance to change that.
10 - Call Me Maybe
If the New Orleans Saints make the playoffs this season, it will mark the 10th time under Sean Payton that the Saints go to the playoffs in 16 years. Boy, how spoiled have we been in NOLA in the Sean Payton era of Saints football? The Saints have made the postseason in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. That is an incredible success rate, one that fans have rightfully come to expect in New Orleans, but one that should not be taken for granted. Just ask the New York Jets (10-year playoff drought), or even the Denver Broncos (5 years).
210 - Workhorse?
The 2021 season was strange for the New Orleans Saints for several reasons. One of the most unusual was the heightened usage of do-everything running back Alvin Kamara. In 15 games last season, Kamara rushed the ball 187 times. In 2021, in only 12 games, AK41 already has 210 carries, with one more game to go. While the high workload has been necessary for Kamara due to the lack of production by other running backs on the roster, one of the aspects that the Saints need to address next season is providing him some help and using Kamara much more in the role he played earlier in his career: running on the periphery, and receiving the ball. As gifted an athlete as Kamara is, he missed four games this season due to injuries likely linked to his increased use as an up-the-middle running back. When you have a Ferrari, you don’t drive it on dirt roads. The Saints would be better served managing Kamara to make sure they can maximize what he does best. If they don’t, he will quickly fade, as most heavily-used NFL running backs often do.
11 - Better Late Than Never
When the Saints scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter of their game against the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday, it was the first touchdown scored by New Orleans in 11 quarters. If you recall, the Saints beat the Tampa Bay Bucs 9-0 in Tampa with three field goals scored over four quarters. They then only scored three points in a 20-3 loss against the Miami Dolphins, bringing their touchdown drought to eight quarters. They cut it close against Carolina, as they until 7:49 minutes were left in the fourth quarter of their last game to get into the end zone when Alvin Kamara caught a swing pass by Taysom Hill and raced in for a 12-yard touchdown. The struggle has been real, and yet here we are, one game away.
16 - As Advertised
While the offense could not score any touchdowns, the Saints’ offense was not giving any. When the Carolina Panthers scored a touchdown in the second quarter of the game on Sunday to take a 10-3 lead, it marked only the second touchdown allowed by the Saints in 16 quarters. New Orleans did not allow a single touchdown to either the Jets or the Bucs through eight quarters. They then gave up only one touchdown to the Dolphins (Miami’s other score was a pick-six), and one to the Panthers in last Sunday’s game. If the Saints make it to the playoffs by beating the Falcons next Sunday, it will be because the Saints’ defense has once again carried the team to victory.
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