New Orleans Saints: The Most Underachieving 2-3 Team In the NFL.

James ReesAnalyst IOctober 8, 2008

How close are the Saints to being 4-1? 

89 yards—the combined length of two potentially game-winning field goals missed by Martin Gramatica against the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos.

Though the two loses aren’t entirely Gramatica’s fault, it’s hard to put the majority of the blame anywhere else.  43 and 46-yard field goals are not too much to ask of a kicker. Not when the offense and defense have worked their tails off all game to put the team in a position to gain the lead in the final two minutes.

As I watched the Saints’ final offensive drive stall out on the Vikings 30-yard line Monday night, I said loudly and clearly to anyone in the room who was listening, “We cannot rely on Gramatica to win this for us.” 

I probably wasn’t the only Saints fan muttering that sentence, either.  And rightfully so.  The guy is a head case.  How can Head Coach Sean Payton expect him to come through when the game is on the line?  He’s practically scared of his own shadow.         

Sure enough, Gramatica pushed it left and the Saints failed to prevent the offensively challenged Vikings from moving it 40 yards for the winning field goal. 

Just like that, the Saints are 2-3 and an afterthought in the suddenly competitive NFC South.

Do I sound frustrated?  Bitter, maybe?

I’m sorry—it’s just hard to watch.  The Saints were a far better team than the Vikings, and though they laid an egg for the majority of the game, they still had a chance to win it at the end. 

That’s what good teams do.  They put themselves in a position to win, even when things aren’t going their way.  And to have an emotionally unstable kicker ruin it…well, to quote coach Payton, "it’s a tough pill to swallow." 

Thankfully, Gramatica was replaced on the roster Wednesday by rookie kicker Tyler Mehlhaff.  Mehlhaff was shaky in the preseason, but anyone is an upgrade at this point.

Having vented a little now, let me say that Gramatica cannot be held solely responsible for the Saints bumpy start.  It’s a product of a lot of things. 

Injuries, for one, are absolutely killing the Saints.  It’s not an excuse, but when you’re beat up this bad, it’s hard not to notice them.

Poor coaching, I think, is another reason why the Saints are below 2-3 instead of 4-1.  Sean Payton’s play calling has been okay—not great like it was in 2006—just okay. 

His personnel use is another issue.  In my opinion, the Saints would have beaten the Broncos if Deuce McAllister had played.  And in regards to Gramatica, the head coach has got to know pulse of his players.

Anybody with two working eyes and half-a-brain could have predicted Gramatica would miss the game-winner Monday night.  The guy was too frazzled.  He was on edge from his earlier miss.  Payton should have realized this and schemed to get the first down no matter what.

And what about team discipline?  Nine penalties in the first half against the Vikings?  How is that, in any way shape or form, acceptable for a team in the NFL?  Payton can make them run penalty laps around the practice field all he wants, but obviously the team isn’t getting the message.

Okay, that’s enough of the negative for today.  At 2-3 the Saints season isn’t in ruins just yet.  Thankfully, they’ve got a winnable game against Oakland this week.  Hopefully after his one we won’t be talking about what could have been.