Reflecting on the 5 Defining Moments of the Saints' 2013 Regular Season
Boy did that go by fast.
With the 2013 regular season in the books, the New Orleans Saints must now embark on a new journey through the postseason. The regular season can be described as a mixed bag, as it started out extremely promising, but it now leaves us scratching our collective heads.
After all, essentially backing into the playoffs, after being in the pole position for much of the season is enough to leave a sour taste in the mouth of even the staunchest of supporter.
Critics and pundits alike have had a field day with the perceived late-season collapse of the Saints, but an objective look reveals that the season has been a pretty even one for the Black and Gold in totality.
Before we move forward, let's take a look back at the moments that shaped this extremely entertaining, and nauseating, 2013 season.
Here are five moments that stood out among a plethora.
The Patriot Act
Do you remember the excitement you had prior to the tilt with the New England Patriots in Week 6? The Saints were 5-0 headed to Foxborough, looking to make a statement. What ensued was one of the, if not the, most frustrating games of the season.
The Saints put together a brilliant game on the ground with 26 attempts for 131 yards. Rookie running back Khiry Robinson (seven attempts for 53 yards) and fellow back Pierre Thomas (11 attempts for 51 yards) led the charge, but the Saints were unable to generate their patented explosive plays through the air.
Tight end Jimmy Graham was smothered like Waffle House hash browns by Patriots corner Aqib Talib for the majority of the game. Despite being targeted six times, Graham was held without a catch for the only time all season.
The defense held Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to a 74.7 rating while sacking him five times. But it was the run defense that reared its ugly head, giving up 141 yards on 35 carries.
For those of you who say the Saints shouldn't run the ball because they have Drew Brees, look no further than this game. It can be argued that Brady is the greatest QB ever, but the Patriots' staff has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to win.
The Saints on the other hand...not so much!
It almost seems as though the Saints would rather lose than to win any other way besides throwing the ball. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration.
Or is it?
To top it off, the Saints lost 30-27 on a deep ball in the final seconds.
Live by the pass...
Windy City Beatdown
When the Saints rolled into Chicago to face the Bears, many believed the Saints would come away with their first loss. The Saints' inability to both run and stop the run was supposed to be their detriment. But neither deficiency resulted in a loss.
For my money, the Saints were thoroughly outplayed by Chicago. The Bears piled up 452 total yards with 218 of them going to receiver Alshon Jeffery. Conversely, the Saints ran the ball for just 64 yards on 29 carries—although they did manage to put up 288 yards through the air.
But in typical bend-but-don't-break fashion, the Saints held the Bears to just two touchdowns, with a turnover forced by safety Malcolm Jenkins being the difference in the 26-18 victory for the Saints. This game stands out as the first in which defensive coordinator Rob Ryan opened up his Dallas Cowboys' playbook by blitzing the defensive backs.
Jenkins turned out to be perfect for that role, as he ended up with 2.5 sacks on the year. This game also exposed corner Jabari Greer as a liability against big-play receivers such as Jeffery. This may have been Jeffery's coming-out party, as he ended up with 1,421 yards on 89 receptions.
But in a season when the Saints went 3-5 on the road, this may have been the best win away from the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Big Apple Too Much to Eat
The most shocking defeat (26-20) came at the hands of the New York Jets. In what seemed like a football nightmare, former Saint Chris Ivory ran through the defense like kids through water sprinklers in the summer!
Ivory piled up 139 yards on 18 carries with most of the damage being of the smashmouth variety. Uncharacteristically, the Jets didn't turn the ball over while the Saints managed to do it twice. But the most glaring mistake came from head coach—and play-caller—Sean Payton.
Despite the game being close throughout, the Saints only called 12 designed runs. That aspect is egregious in itself, but when you factor in the Jets may have the best rush in the NFL, you can really see how the results were derived.
With Brees being pressured all game, he was forced into two interceptions, which negated the two TDs he threw.
This game has the dubious distinction as being the game when we determined the Saints were flat-out soft.
Soft as a baby's bottom...
When you have a team destroying you on the ground, and you resort to throwing the ball 51 times in retaliation, you are officially christened as soft.
Soft like baby food...
In addition, this was the game that the Saints tried to convert a 4th-and-1 by running a tight end around to Josh Hill.
Slaughtering of Cats
Most fans will remember the loss to the Carolina Panthers, on the road, as the most disappointing defeat of the season. But objectively speaking, the 31-13 defeat of Carolina two weeks prior may have been the most impressive victory.
In what was originally dubbed as the biggest game of the season, the Saints took the Panthers to the woodshed on Sunday Night Football. If this game were a movie, it would undoubtedly be called Failure to Launch starring Panthers QB Cam Newton.
Newton only managed a paltry 160 yards passing, mostly due to being sacked five times. Conversely, Brees piled up 313 yards passing with four TDs opposed to zero interceptions.
Veteran receiver Marques Colston rose to the occasion with a nine-catch, 125-yard performance (two TDs). The Panthers ran a Cover 4 zone most of the night with Brees and Co. finding voids in the zone seemingly at will.
But it was the dynamic duo of Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette that decided this game. They harassed Newton to the point where he should've filed for a restraining order.
Galette came away with three sacks with Jordan chipping in two of his own. Both guys collapsed the pocket when necessary, while setting the edges and containing Newton's scrambling ability. The Dome Patrol 2.0 was in full effect, but in regard to the second meeting...not so much.
Goal-Line Stand vs. Atlanta
The most exciting game of the season happened in the very first contest against the Atlanta Falcons. At the time, which seems like ages ago, the Falcons were considered the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
They were thought to have solved many of their problems by signing veterans Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora. Some were calling Atlanta's offense the greatest show on turf. And by most accounts, the Falcons looked the part in this one.
QB Matt Ryan put up 304 yards, along with two TDs and one interception, against a revamped Saints defense. In addition, the Falcons rushed for 88 yards on just 14 carries—including a 50-yard jaunt by Jackson.
The Saints put up an aerial display with Brees going for 357 yards of his own, while contributing the same amount of TDs and turnovers as Ryan. In what foreshadowed the rest of the season, the Saints were only able to muster up 78 yards on 29 carries (2.7 average).
But for the most part, these teams were as even as a $2 bill.
You just had a feeling that whichever team had the ball last would win the game. So when the Falcons had a 1st-and-goal from the 8-yard line—in the waning moments—Saints fans were hoping for a little voodoo to pull out the victory.
Thankfully, the Saints found the softest team in football that didn't even attempt to run the ball, and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro deflected the final pass that ended up being intercepted by fellow safety Roman Harper.
Who would've thought the Falcons would only win four games after that showing? The Saints undoubtedly stole their soul and ruined their season with the 23-17 victory.
Here's hoping the Saints find similar magic in the playoffs.