New Orleans Saints: Top 10 Moments from the Saints' 2011-12 Season
The New Orleans Saints' season may have ended sooner than most expected, but it was a season full of excitement and history.
The highlight reels were filled to capacity with big plays, dramatic touchdowns and emotional team experiences.
With everything from a season-opening loss to the defending Super Bowl champs to rewriting the record book, the Saints' 2011-12 season was a roller coaster of hype that had the whole football world watching.
Here are the top 10 moments from the New Orleans Saints' 2011-12 season.
10. Sean Payton Returns to the Sidelines
Saints head coach Sean Payton broke his tibia and tore his MCL on Oct. 16 in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when tight end Jimmy Graham collided with Payton after a tackle.
Payton spent the next three weeks in the coaching booth, unable to move around the sidelines.
It was within those three weeks that the Saints suffered their biggest hiccup in the season as they lost to the injury-riddled St. Louis Rams.
But to the surprise of even his own team, Payton hobbled his way down the sideline at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 13 to lead his team against their division rival Atlanta Falcons.
The score was close the entire game, as most Saints-Falcons games are.
The Saints put together a solid drive in the fourth quarter, and Payton, after a big play, signalled for a first down with his crutch. The gesture symbolized the toughness of Payton's squad as they fought out an overtime win against the Falcons and didn't lose another regular season game.
9. Steve Gleason Starts "Who Dat" Chant
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Steve Gleason will always be a New Orleans legend, and he was the center of another franchise moment this year.
Gleason marked one of the most memorable plays in Saints history on Sept. 26, 2006. The speedy safety blocked a Falcons punt, which was recovered in the end zone for the first score in the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans.
Gleason retired from football in 2008, but he has remained in the hearts of the Saints and their fans.
In 2011, while studying at Tulane University, Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. With his health quickly deteriorating, Gleason has gotten involved with the team and a number of charities around New Orleans.
On the fifth anniversary of the reopening of the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2011, Gleason stepped onto the field after the coin toss. In his feeble condition, he raised his arm to the cheers of 70,000 Saints faithful.
With the drop of his fist, the crowd began the Who Dat chant and the sellout crowd cheered Gleason off the field in respect to a man whose team spirit will love on in New Orleans for years to come.
The Saints came away from that Sunday afternoon with a 40-33 victory over the Houston Texans.
8. Saints Saddle the Colts
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
In what was slated to be a matchup of two highly potent offences, the Saints took advantage of a shorthanded Indianapolis Colts team as the two collided at the Superdome on Oct. 3 for Monday Night Football.
In the absence of the great Peyton Manning, the Colts were expected to fall to the high-powered Saints. But nobody expected the outcome to be so one-sided.
Drew Brees exploded for five touchdowns, carrying the team on his back as they pummelled the Colts 62-7 in one of Monday Night Football's most dominating performances.
7. Perfect at Home
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome was more than friendly to its Saints this year, as the team pulled out a perfect 8-0 home record.
The Saints never scored less than 27 points in any home game this season, dominating every aspect of the game inside the dome.
Their home-field advantage was evident in Week 17, as the Carolina Panthers traveled to New Orleans, attempting to hand the Saints their first and only home loss.
But the NFL's 30th-ranked defence stepped up and held rookie superstar Cam Newton off the scoreboard the entire second half. The Saints prevailed in a 45-17 decision to finish off their 13-3 season.
6. Graham's Slam
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Tight end Jimmy Graham has evolved into one of Drew Brees' favorite targets over the last two years. With a quarterback like Brees, receivers are bound to catch touchdowns, and Graham is no exception.
The second-year young gun caught 99 passes for 11 touchdowns this year, and he celebrated each of them the same way.
Graham played basketball all through college, and the 6'6" North Carolina native uses his vertical skills to dunk the ball over the uprights when he scores.
On Nov. 13, 2011, Graham somehow managed to get wide open in the end zone as Brees hit him for the touchdown.
Despite playing in the rival Falcons' Georgia Dome, Graham slammed the ball through the goalposts, but maybe a little bit too hard.
The dunk shifted the goalposts on an angle and the maintenance team had to stop the game in order to fix the blunder.
Thankfully, the problem was fixed and the Saints kicked a field goal through those uprights for the overtime victory.
5. Defence Clobbers Cutler
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
The Bears had just come off a big 30-12 home win in their season opener against the Falcons, but they were faced with a raucous sellout crowd at the Superdome.
Jay Cutler and the Bears looked strong with the game's first touchdown, but then the Saints defence took the reigns.
The Saints exploded for six sacks and two forced fumbles against a Bears offence that looked as if they forgot how to block.
Cutler completed only 19-of-45 pass attempts and one touchdown as the Saints defence made the difference in the 30-13 victory.
4. Too Late for Titans
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
The Saints travelled to Tennessee for Week 14 action against the Titans in what most thought would be an easy win for the black and gold.
But Tennessee had other plans, playing shot for shot with a banged-up New Orleans team.
After the Saints took a 12-point lead with seven minutes left in the game, the Titans fought back and looked poised for a comeback.
With five seconds left in the game and his team only down by five points, rookie quarterback Jake Locker scrambled in the backfield to find an open receiver.
But Jo-Lonn Dunbar stepped up to protect the lead and sacked Locker to end the game and give the Saints a huge win on the road.
A 22-17 final put New Orleans at 10-3 on the season and kept a lead on division rival Atlanta Falcons. The Saints won out the final three games of regular season play, stymieing any chances of a Falcons comeback.
3. Sproles Turns on the Jets
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Darren Sproles came to play in his Saints debut against the Packers on opening night.
And Sproles filled those shoes in a hurry.
The Packers punted deep into Saints territory with nine minutes left in the second quarter. Sproles received the kick and weaved his way around the cover team.
With a brilliant block by Courtney Roby, Sproles broke free and easily outran Green Bay punter Tim Masthay for the score.
Despite the Saints' loss to Green Bay, Sproles' touchdown was the beginning of what would end up being a record-setting year with 2,696 all-purpose yards.
2. Jimmy's Time to Shine
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Although Jimmy Graham didn't come away with his name in the record books, his performance this season was excellent for a second-year pro with only one year of college football.
He broke Kellen Winslow's 31-year-old record with 1,310 receiving yards on the season, but lost the title to New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski's 1,327 just minutes later.
It seemed as if nothing could stop the Miami Hurricanes alum, as he posed a threat on every part of the field.
The big tight end was a key factor in every aspect of the offence, whether blocking or receiving.
Although it's hard to narrow it down to one moment, Jimmy Graham was a huge part of the Saints' 2011-12 season, and if he continues to improve, he will be even more of a problem for defences next year.
1. Drew's Dominance
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Anybody who had doubts about the abilities of Drew Brees can put them to sleep.
The Saints' franchise quarterback threw for 5,476 yards, smashing Dan Marino's long-time record of 5,084 yards.
The play that broke the record couldn't have been better.
On Monday Night Football, with 2:58 left in the game, the Saints lined up on the Falcons' 9-yard line. Brees only needed seven yards for the record.
Darren Sproles, first-year Saint and long-time friend of Brees, stepped out of the backfield at the snap and weaved his way into the end zone.
Brees hit him for the touchdown to claim the title of most passing yards in a season and arguably put his name in talks for one of the best quarterbacks of all-time.
No matter what happened in the postseason this year, that play will stand out in Saints history as one of the greatest moments in the history of the organization—the moment Drew Brees became the best.