The photograph sums it up. An opposing wide receiver is able to make a catch because one defender fell down and a safety is caught out of position.
Time and time again, the New Orleans Saints' defense let down the team when the offense put it in position to win.
There have been 264 games played in the NFL this season. In only 14 of those games, a team has scored 30 or more points and still lost.
The Saints have been on the short end in two of those 14 games.
So Close, And Yet So Far
Five of the Saints' losses were by three or fewer points. The Saints gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter to lose by five at Washington.
That makes six New Orleans losses that came within a touchdown. If they win half of those games, they are in the playoffs with an 11-5 record.
The Saints probably would have fared better in close games if they took better care of the ball.
Turnovers played a big factor for the Saints. In eight losses the Saints turned the ball over 20 times and only forced seven of their own.
There was only one loss this season (@ Denver) in which the Saints turned the ball over only once.
New Orleans turned the ball over three or more times in half of their losses. They didn't force a turnover in half of their losses either.
From management to coaching to player performance, I have a grade for different phases of the Saints' franchise and season.
In the offseason, the Saints needed to address many areas of need. Unfortunately, many of those areas of concern are still weaknesses on this team.
Positives: The Saints desperately needed a defensive tackle to plug up the middle, and they got a good one in Sedrick Ellis. Ellis has had a better rookie season than the man he was compared to in the draft, Glenn Dorsey.
The Saints traded for Jonathan Vilma, and he became their leading tackler.
They also finally found a kicker in Garrett Hartley after the kicking game cost them two or three games.
Negatives: Maybe next season will tell a different story, but I don't think that the Jeremy Shockey trade has been successful. Two draft choices is too high of a price for a guy who didn't produce a touchdown.
Shockey is just another weapon on this offense and not the first or second option.
The Saints lost many draft picks as a result of their trades. They currently have only three draft picks in the 2009 draft.
New Orleans did not address the safety position in 2008. This is the biggest hole to fill in 2009.
As much as Sean Payton's play calling drives Saints fans nuts, you have to credit him with some of Drew Brees' success. Brees was a good quarterback before coming to New Orleans. Now he is considered by many to be among the upper echelon of current quarterbacks.
Positives: The offense scores a lot of points, and much credit goes to Payton. Credit Payton with finally finding some balance in the play calling and utilizing Pierre Thomas in the backfield.
Give Payton and his staff credit for getting the players ready to go after a loss. They only lost consecutive games once this season.
Negatives: If Payton and his staff get credit for getting the players ready to play after a loss, then I must also blame them for not winning consecutive games more than once this season.
A shortage of winning streaks destroyed momentum from one week to the next.
Payton still needs to improve his game management. He challenges a lot of plays that are clearly not going to go in his favor and unnecessarily loses timeouts.
Brees set a franchise record with 34 touchdown passes.
Brees involved 16 different receivers throughout the season. Eleven of them caught a touchdown pass.
Negatives: Brees forced a few passes and tried to make a play that wasn't there. As a result, he threw 17 interceptions.
I would like to see him cut down to 12 or 13 interceptions next year.
Positives: Pierre Thomas emerged as a starting running back. The Saints were 5-2 in games in which he carried the ball at least 10 times, and it was no coincidence.
In those seven games, he carried the ball a total of 103 times for 527 yards and nine total touchdowns.
Negatives: After three seasons, it should be clear that Bush is not an every down back. He still dances too much in the backfield and isn't physical enough.
I bet if he applied the punishment instead of absorbing it, he wouldn't get hurt so much.
It looks as if Deuce will not be with the team next season. Whether it is Mike Bell or someone else, the Saints need to identify a back who can replace Thomas if he suffers an injury.
An inability to convert third and short cost the Saints more than one game this season.
This grade would be an F if it wasn't for Thomas' emergence during the second half of the season.
Positives: Jason David showed me something this season. He led the Saints with five interceptions. He wasn't spectacular, but he was adequate.
We got a glimpse of Tracy Porter's ability before he got hurt in the fifth game of the season and was gone for the year.
Negatives: No 2008 playoff team had fewer than the 28 sacks produced by the Saints this season. Bobby McCray led the team with six sacks, while overpaid starting defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant combined for six.
I cannot imagine a team in the NFL with a worse collection of safeties. Kevin Kaesviharn, Josh Bullocks, and Roman Harper combined for three interceptions this seasons.
They were burned repeatedly on double moves, post routes, out and ups, and go routes.
The safety position is the weakest on the team.
Positives: The Saints faced many of the top runners in the NFL and held most them under 100 yards.
Only LaDainian Tomlinson, Kevin Smith, and DeAngelo Williams cracked the century mark against the Saints.
Negatives: It seemed that opponents always got the short yardage conversion, even when you knew they were going to run up the middle.
The Saints were in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed, yards per carry allowed, and rushing touchdowns allowed.
Positives: Reggie Bush had one of the best return nights ever in the NFL on Monday night against the Vikings. He was just the 12th player in history to return two punts for touchdowns.
Garrett Hartley seems to be the kicker of the future.
Negatives: Before Mr. Hartley joined the black and gold, the kicking game was a liability.
Martin Gramatica missed two field goals against Denver. Saints lost by two.
Gramatica missed two field goals against Minnesota. One was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Saints lose by three.
Saints kick coverage was nothing special. Bears took opening kickoff to the end zone. Saints lose by three in overtime.
You are what your record says you are. At 8-8, the Saints are an average team. They have an excellent passing game and below average talent on defense.
This season was filled with "if onlys" that defined the Saints' season.
If only...Garrett Hartley was in a New Orleans uniform from day one.
If only...the Saints had a safety who could play the position adequately.
If only...Pierre Thomas was used more in the beginning of the season.
If only...the Saints didn't turn the ball over so much.
Keep your spirits up, Who Dats. Free agency starts in less than three months.
Overall Grade: C