New Orleans Saints Fans Should Be Optimistic in 2009
One second may not mean much in a broader scheme of things. But to a football franchise desperately searching for hope in what seems like a lifetime of misfortune, one second can mean everything.
Despite knowing the odds of earning the last spot as a wild-card in the NFC playoffs were slim to none, the sheer idea of the Saints' quarterback cementing his name in NFL history books brought optimism and joy to the faces of every New Orleans Saints fan.
So as Drew Brees' pass sailed incomplete past Lance Moore as the the last second of the game expired from the clock, Saints fans wallowed in self-pity.
Brees would finish just 16 yards shy of breaking Dan Marino's all-time single season passing record of 5,084 yards set in 1984.
It didn't matter that the Saints lost the game that day; the only thing every Saints' fan cared about was seeing their quarterback reach one of the most coveted milestones in NFL history.
Seeing Brees accomplish the feat would have meant so much to a city who looks to their sports teams to provide a temporary escape from reality. An ounce of hope for a season some viewed as played in vain when every team's goal is making the playoffs.
Even though he fell short of breaking the record, fans can be proud of Brees' accomplishments that year, I'd expect them to. But no-one remembers the No. 2 guy in history, unless your name is Hank Aaron.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Black and gold fans poured onto the streets of New Orleans with their heads hung low in disappointment as they watched their team fail to live up to lofty expectations for the second consecutive season.
Mediocrity is nothing new to New Orleans. The Saints may have fought their way to the NFC Divisional Championship game in 2006, but the team doesn't necessarily have a history of playing in the playoffs.
In their 32-year existence, the Saints have only made six appearances in the post-season, two of those coming since 2000.
And quite frankly, there's always been some form of misfortune passing New Orleans' way, a natural disaster, a head-scratching play, or a season plagued with injuries. You name it, and the Saints have probably endured it in the past nine years.
Let's take a stroll down memory lane beginning in the 2002 season.
Behind the legs of longtime Saints running back Deuce McAllister, New Orleans won six of their first seven games before Aaron Brooks suffered several injuries.
Head coach Jim Haslett refused to sit Brooks in favor of a healthy backup (Jake Delhomme) who would end up piloting an NFC South rival to the Super Bowl in 2004.
New Orleans eventually dropped out of first place in the division and would finish 3-6 the rest of the season, missing the playoffs.
The 2003 campaign would prove to be no more than another heartbreaker for black and gold fans. The Saints, in control of their own destiny, let their playoff chances slip away.
Down seven points to the Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans had 11 seconds to drive the ball down the field to tie the game. Aaron Brooks dropped back, threw a strike to Donte' Stallworth and the River City Relay began.
After three laterals and 75 yards, the Saints managed to pull off the impossible and put themselves in position to tie up the game sending it into overtime.
What happened next? John Carney's extra point sailed wide right ending the game along with the Saints' playoff chances. They finished one game behind NFC South division leader and missed the playoffs again.
The next year, the underachieving Saints finished on the cusp of a playoff berth, however, watched the playoffs at home thanks to a tie-breaker.
Following the 2004 season, they looked to carry over momentum from a four-game winning streak at the end of the 2003 season, but Mother Nature had plans of her own.
So in light of the disaster known as Hurricane Katrina, let's just not get into the 2005 season. Forget 3-13 and Cherish 2006.
Just when everyone thought the Saints had righted the ship, miscues and head-scratching plays would continue to plague the Saints' playoff hopes in 2007. Most notably in week 13 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Superdome two years ago.
With under 3:30 left to play, Tampa called their third and final timeout. The Saints only needed seven yards to get a first down and milk the rest of the clock to win the game.
The very next play, Stallworth mishandles an awkward toss from Reggie Bush on a reverse play called by head coach Sean Payton. The Bucs recovered the fumble, marched down the field, and scored the go-ahead touchdown to win the game.
I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, however, in the case of the Saints, I'm having a difficult time believing anything good will result from the Saints' past failures.
Just look at the Chicago Cubs. They haven't been to a World Series in over 60 years. Every time management believes they have built a championship contending team, anything and everything goes awry.
Both pitching aces, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, simultaneously suffer career threatening injuries in which neither have been able to fully recover from yet.
On top of that, the Cubs were five outs away from going to the World Series in 2004. As Moises Alou jumped for a foul ball that would have ended the eighth inning in the NLCS game six, a Cubs fan reached out with his glove stealing the foul ball away from Alou.
The missed opportunity sparked an eight-run rally by the Florida Marlins and the rest is history.
But enough about the lovable losers of baseball. We have football's version in the Crescent City.
With training camp in a few days, why should black and gold fans be optimistic about this upcoming season? In a lifetime of misfortune, what makes this season so special?
Well for one, the Saints have undergone some changes this off-season. After the secondary gave up five plays of 40 plus yards and 20 plus yards or more, something desperately needed to happen to fix that.
A defense which only intercepted 15 passes and sacked the quarterback 28 times ranking them 23rd in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed was unacceptable to Saints GM Mickey Loomis.
He made the first of several changes; out with the old and in with the new. They fired Gary Gibbs and introduced Greg Williams, known for his aggressive coaching style and bringing constant pressure to opposing offenses, as the new defensive coordinator.
Williams will implement a few changes to the defensive 4-3 scheme focusing more on blitzing the safety and linebackers, something Gibbs simply didn't do enough of. His resume' speaks for itself.
As a head coach or coordinator in the NFL, Williams had five top 15-ranked defenses in the league in points allowed, including fifth ranked defenses with Buffalo and Washington. Only time will tell if this move was the right decision.
The front officee wasn't finished. It needed a few more pieces, specifically at safety and cornerback. So New Orleans parted ways with safety Josh Bullocks and signed 13 year veteran pro bowl safety Darren Sharper along with 6 year corner Jabari Greer from the Bills.
Sharper brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with playmaking abilities at safety. He's the current active leader in career interceptions with 54 and has eight defensive touchdowns. Jabari Greer will add depth and will be in the mix for the starting position.
In the draft, the Saints selected cornerback Malcolm Jenkins in the first round and drafted two more defensive players to improve on that side of the ball.
The new additions addressed what most people would consider to be the weakest unit on the team and brought depth to a lackluster defense.
And with Tracy Porter fully recovered from his wrist injury, competition at corner should be fierce at training camp because of many potential playmakers, not just by default.
The front office made it a priority to prevent another 8-8 season at all costs. Without even playing a regular season game yet, the Saints appear on paper to have improved significantly on the defensive side of the ball.
And paired with the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, Saints fans should have reason to feel not only optimistic but positive their team is breaking an ongoing trend of misfortune and disappointment.
It's far too early to indicate whether the additions the Saints have made this off-season will be the start of a bright future for the city of New Orleans or even make them playoff contenders this year for that matter.
But as long as Brees is taking snaps under center, the Saints can avoid injuries, and neither Fred Thomas or Jason David is starting at cornerback, anything is possible.
Originally posted on NewOrleans.com/Sports
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