DATELINE ST LOUIS, MO (Worst game of the Sean Payton era?)

Sean Payton has brought several Super moments to New Orleans so the list of stinkers are few and far between. Sure you had the opener in 07 where Indy crushed the Saints  41-10 and you had an uninspired loss in 08 at Carolina 30-7. Then you had some forgettable games last season where New Orleans lost to a horrible Arizona team led by QB Max Hall ?? 30-20. Another less than memorable moment was last season’s home defeat to a youthful Cleveland club 30-17 and finally the painful Marshawn Lynch playoff dagger in Seattle. For my money, this game in St Louis was the worst—given how talented this Saints team is and how seemingly pathetic this opponent was entering the game.

On the eve of Halloween, it seemed the Saints dressed up as the Rams and the Rams went to the store and picked out those vintage Saints costumes. A scary and spooky performance which provided ammunition for that “Any Given Sunday” argument, especially when you look at the Rams numbers which would scare any trick or treater.

St Louis hadn’t won a game in six tries. They entered its Saints showdown owners of the worst scoring offense in the league where they averaged 9.3 points per game. The Rams were the only team in the NFL to average fewer than double digits coming in. On the other side of the ball, the news wasn’t much better as the St Louis defense was not only reeling, they were banged up missing their top four cornerbacks. Blame for this loss wasn’t just on one Saint–you could point to the entire roster as Payton indicated after this one “everyone has gotta be better.”

First and foremost the Saints offensive line. They allowed a Rams defense that entered the game as the worst unit against the run in the NFL and the 29th best in the league to become the 85 Bears. Suddenly Chris Long turned into Richard Dent and James Laurinaitis was transformed into Mike Singletary. Meanwhile the Saints played like the unit that Mike Ditka coached not in the WIndy City but his days in the Big Easy. The black and gold o-line weren’t good to its quarterback where Brees was sacked a season high six times–the worst total since Payton has been a Head Coach.

The worst part about the lack of protection was its domino effect on the rest of the offense. No pass protection meant the Saints were facing many third and long’s. In fact seven different times, New Orleans faced 3rd and 10 or more—they would convert only ONCE- a telling stat in this game. With the O-line struggling, the running game didn’t have a chance where losing the early downs set up the third and long’s. By the way the running game finished with 18 yards in the 1st half and 56 yards in the game-this against the WORST unit against the run in the NFL.

On defense, the Saints had its moments as Will Smith had a great game with a pair of sacks and a pass deflection. He would be the lone star on a Saints roster who had many culprits. The D didn’t have an answer for Steven Jackson who rushed for 159 yards, averaging 6.4 yards a carry. This guy is as good as any back in the league and if he played in Dallas would be a household name.  In a true sign of how bizarre this game was, the defense actually scored before the offense and that was in the third quarter when Jonathan Vilma recovered a fumble in the endzone.

Payton didn’t offer any excuses afterwards acknowledging “we looked flat,” and “if we can’t bounce back, it will be like last year.” Well last year the Saints made the playoffs and if this kind of effort continues, the postseason won’t be a part of their future. No reason a team that put up arguably the most impressive victory in franchise history one week ago can turn around and deliver one of its worst a week later. Good teams beat bad teams and rarely give them its first win of the season.

This was the worst loss since Sean Payton put the Saints visor on because of how collectively bad his team played against such an inferior opponent. Some Rams staff members told me afterwards, “we are as shocked as you are.” Shocking is one word for this game but disturbing may be a better description. On Halloween week, the Who Dats put on a costume we haven’t seen in awhile, let’s just hope its a faze.


MAGIC “11”–Something about the number 11 in St Louis. The Cardinals who were on hand for the game on the sidelines just gave the franchise its 11th World Series championship in 2011 this week. The Saints now have “11” different players reaching paydirt–here is the list –Vilma,Leigh Torrence, Ingram, Colston, Jed Collins, Pierre Thomas,Graham, Sproles, Meachem,Moore, and Devery Henderson.

SILVER LINING STREAK: It looked like Drew Brees’ consecutive streak of having a TD pass was gonna end against the Rams but it stayed alive with :06 seconds left when he found Lance Moore in the endzone. Drew now has a TD pass in 35 straight and can tie Brett Favre for second on the all-time list next week against the Bucs. Johnny Unitas holds the record with 47 games in a row.

BROWN BANGED UP: The right tackle position has been a revolving door for this team. In camp, the Saints cut Jon Stinchcomb only to lose Zach Strief and now Charles Brown left in the 4th quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return. Brown told me afterwards that he isn’t sure if he’ll be back for the Bucs next week. In his stead was veteran Pat McQuistan who was just picked up a few weeks ago.

IVORY BACK IN BUSINESS: Chris Ivory is off the PUP list and made his debut in St Louis. His longest carry was for 6 yards but he did get 6 touches totaling only 18. Afterwards he said it was good to be back but with Mark Ingram likely returning soon, time will tell how much action last year’s leading rusher will see.

MANIC MORSTEAD: If any player typified the difference in the Saints from last week to this one it would be punter Thomas Morstead. Last week he punted once—a week he punted six times with a long of 62 yards.

NOBODY ASKED ME BUT: OK, I’m very late to the party but can I weigh in on Tebow Mania?! First off, I covered him for all four years at the University of Florida and I attest he may be the best college player of all time and yes he’s a great kid who works hard and undoubtedly plays hard. WIth that said–can we just tone things down a bit? Pretty please?  Around the NFL landscape there are a number of great young QB’s many of whom are making their debut’s this year (see Newton, Cam and Ponder, Christian). Its embarrassing how the national media is obsessing over Tebow’s weekly ups and downs. Bottom line–none of us know how good or bad Tebow will be–let’s let it play out. Meanwhile, can we give others the attention they deserve as well?

Mike Nabors