There are many reasons why the Saints lost to the Vikings on MNF in Week Five. I could talk about the penalties (11 for 102 yards). I could mention the four turnovers on offense and none on defense. I could make Martin Gramatica the scapegoat.
All of these contributed mightily to one of the most disappointing Saints losses in franchise history.
This Saints’ loss illustrates why some very talented players are relegated to second and third-string status and others shine as starters.
While starting receivers Marques Colston and David Patten have each missed a significant portion of the season, backups Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, and Robert Meachem have filled in with impressive stats. In the team’s first five games, they have tallied 39 receptions, over 750 yards, and six touchdowns.
Statistics, as we all know, can be misleading.
Each one of these receivers made at least one crucial error against the Vikings that likely wouldn’t have been committed by either starting wideout.
With the Saints driving deep in Viking territory in first quarter and leading 7-0, Robert Meachem dropped a wide open 12-yard pass on 3rd-and-10. On the ensuing play, Gramatica’s 45-yard field goal was blocked and returned for a touchdown.
Instead of first and 10 from the 16-yard line, with a great opportunity to go up 14-0 early, it’s tied at seven.
Another Meachem miscue reared its ugly head in the fourth quarter. With the score tied at 27, just over two minutes left, and the Saints having quickly moved the ball from their 10-yard line to the Vikings' 28, Meachem fails to realize where he is supposed to line up and forces the Saints to burn a timeout and destroy their offense rhythm.
Two plays later, Gramatica misses a 46-yard field goal.
While it has been surprising that Henderson has not dropped a pass this season, he was not immune to mental miscues on MNF. Tight end Billy Miller made a 41-yard reception in the fourth quarter.
At the end of the play, Miller was blind-sided by Minnesota’s Cedric Griffin and was forced to leave the game. This unfortunate injury could have been avoided if Henderson would have kept up with his down-field blocks.
Later on the same drive, Henderson failed to adjust his route when the Vikings came with a blitz. It was 3rd-and-9 and an obvious blitz situation. Henderson continued with the originally planned fly route instead of breaking it off for a short pass to the sideline.
On what started out as the Saints’ best drive, a crucial Moore mistake suddenly killed the possession. On the 13 play of a 75-yard drive, Drew Brees threw a second-down pass to Moore in the red zone. The pass twice bounced off of Moore’s hands and ended up in the grasp of Vikings’ defender Ben Leber.
These critical mistakes are not often made by NFL starters. These mistakes were mental. They show lapses in concentration. A professional needs to always know where to line up on any given play. Concentration and focus on the ball is necessary on even the easiest of catches.
It is unlikely that Colston and Patten would have made these same mistakes.
While Henderson, Meachem, and Moore should be praised for the effort they have put forth while thrust into prominent roles, they will never become everyday NFL starters until they improve the mental aspect of their games.