The Saints are in the playoffs, but their ultimate goal is much bigger than that
As always, for our novice readers or non-New Orleanians, welcome!
Let’s start with some definitions:
Beignets (English: /bɛnˈjeɪ/; French: [bɛɲɛ], ben-YAY literally bump) are distinctly New Orleans, a delicacy intimately connected to the city’s rich French heritage. Best enjoyed heavily powdered with sugar.
This is your “After-Saints-Game” brunch, where we talk about the state of the Black and Gold, we debate the goings-on with the team and talk about what’s next at this point of the season. So, sit back, take a bite and a sip while your brain slowly wakes up, and let’s catch up on some football.
What Just Happened?
There are a bunch of 14-year-old and younger New Orleans Saints fans around this nation who believe that making the playoffs is a birthright for the Saints. As they do so, a slew of veteran fans like me (I’m 43) and older even look at them with that look that is both envious and condescending. After all, some of the old timers remember actually watching the “Aints” play live, those teams that were so bad that any win felt like a monumental achievement.
But things have changed in New Orleans since 2006, when Sean Payton and Drew Brees rode to town: The Saints have become (gasp!) a winning franchise. So much so that they won a Super Bowl in 2009. They have won the NFC South six times, and are the three-time defending divisional champions, on pace to win a fourth straight title, which would be a first in the history of the division. Should the Saints beat the Carolina Panthers in the season finale on January 3, 2021, they would become the first NFC South team in history to go 6-0 in the division.
With their 21-16 win over Atlanta yesterday, New Orleans clinched its fourth straight playoff berth, yet no Saints fans were seen parading on Bourbon Street. Sure, some were drunk, but we are talking about New Orleans and Bourbon here. The expectations in New Orleans these days, especially with the career of quarterback Drew Brees winding down, are to win a second Super Bowl, nothing less. Making the playoffs is old news in New Orleans now.
Beignets and Café au Lait Awards
Fresh Beignets with Hot Coffee: Taysom Hill
With the win against the Falcons, Saints starting quarterback Taysom Hill is now 3-0 in his interim. On Sunday, Hill showcased the side of him that has drawn the most scrutiny: his passing game, or lack thereof. Hill completed 27 of 37 passes for 232 yards, two passing touchdowns (the first of his NFL career) and no interceptions. Hill regularly made the right reads and completed at least one pass to eight receivers. He also shows the smarts to target Michael Thomas early and often, 11 times more specifically, for nine completions and 105 yards. The former Saints’ backup showed that he can improve his passing game and become a truly viable option at quarterback for the Saints while Brees recovers from his injured ribs.
Stale Beignets with Lukewarm Coffee: Taysom Hill
Yes, this is a schizophrenic edition of the BaCauL awards. Taysom Hill, just like his lord, giveth and taketh. In the taketh department, Hill almost singlehandedly lost yesterday’s game for the Saints. Twice! With New Orleans leading 21-9 and having a second-and-goal at the Falcons’ five-yard line in the fourth quarter, Hill fumbled the ball trying to extend the play. Falcons linebacker Deion Jones recovered the fumble at Atlanta’s 15-yard line. On the ensuing Falcons’ drive, Atlanta would score a touchdown, completely flipping the momentum of the game on its head.
Later in the quarter, with the Saints trying to salt the game away and not give the ball back to the Falcons, Hill fumbled once again, this time at the Saints’ 25-yard line. The ball luckily rolled harmlessly out of bounds, Had it stayed on the field of play, it would have more than likely resulted in the Falcons having the ball at the edge of the Saints’ red zone, down five with 1:30 on the clock, two timeouts and a great chance to win the game with a touchdown.
Hill has had costly fumbles this season, the biggest being the one that led directly to an early season loss to the Green Bay Packers, one that could loom large before the season is over, as the Packers are only one game behind the Saints in the race for the number one seed in the NFC and the coveted single bye for the postseason. Should New Orleans and Green Bay finish with identical records, the Packers would win the tiebreaker and get the top seed. Who wants to play in Green Bay in January? Not the Saints. Not anybody.
Hill has to fix his ball security issues, be it via drills or some form of mental exercise, because he touches the ball too often in games now for these fumbles not to cost the Saints another game again soon if he doesn’t.
The Saints travel to Philadelphia next Sunday at 3:25 CT for their third consecutive road game, to face a reeling Eagles team (3-8-1) that has lost four games in a row and is considering benching starting quarterback Carson Wentz for rookie Jalen Hurts. The Eagles have had a porous offensive line, that has led to Wentz getting sacked mercilessly, and has frankly contributed to how poorly Wentz has played. For New Orleans, with Green Bay hot on its heels, there is no letting up. The Saints literally have to win out to ensure that they get the bye to open the postseason. The Saints have had success against the Eagles in the Sean Payton era, going 7-2 vs. Philly since 2006 (regular season and playoffs). New Orleans has won the last two matchups in the series, a 48-7 demolition in the regular season in 2018, and a tight 20-14 in the 2018 divisional playoffs. Both games were in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Philadelphia’s last victory against New Orleans was a 39-17 regular season home-win on October 11, 2015.