Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week 15 Review: Pendulum, Ravens D Swings Against the Saints

They can't blame it on the weather.

When the NFL scheduling sprites (won't call them "gods"- any entity that awards a Super Bowl to an open-air stadium in Jersey merit no such moniker), slated the New Orleans Saints to visit Baltimore in mid-December, I figured between the weather and the Ravens' defense that the black birds would be a favorite.

On Sunday it was all defense as a stifled Saints offense couldn't stay on the field while Baltimore running back Ray Rice picked up 153 rushing yards by himself and fellow running back Willis McGahee's 53 yards was more than the Saints' combined rushing yards (a pitiful 27 when factoring in Reggie Bush's -4 overall on the ground).

Who'd have ever thought the Saints would so sorely miss a certain undrafted rookie free agent from Tiffin with both Bush and Pierre Thomas back in action?

The Saints' offense had to rely almost solely on quarterback Drew Brees' arm and his receiving corps' capacity to make catches and his offensive line's ability to protect him. That's never a good situation for the team to find themselves in, especially when neither did very well- though tight end Jimmy Graham caught a pair of touchdowns and "Mr. Reliable" Lance Moore had great hands and toes on an end zone edge catch that was sustained after further review.

With the poor ground game, the Saints had less than 300 yards of total offense.

There were occasions where the Ravens were trying to give the game away, committing ten penalties, but the Saints offense could not take advantage of these "gifts". And then there was one fowl foul, a blantant block in the back, that was not called that helped keep a Baltimore drive alive. Perhaps the refs got tired of throwing flags?

To Brees's credit, things could have been much worse. After spending too much time trying to find open receivers, the Ravens knocked the ball out of his hands twice, with number nine recovering one of the fumbles himself (which is how he ended up with a mangled shoulder in his final game with the San Diego Chargers).

The Saints leader in positive passing records and accolades completed 29 of 46 passing attempts for three touchdowns and a pick while trying to pull off yet another last minute rally. This time the well had done run out of magic.

The Saints travel to number one seed Atlanta for Monday Night Football next week.

Mr. Consistent?

Saints kicker Garrett Hartley made his only field goal attempt of the day, a 47-yarder. Hartley has hit 13 of 15 field goal attempts since being released from "time-out" earlier in the season and has been perfect in his last seven tries.

Pierre Returns to His Roots

Thomas filled in for the injured Courtney Roby as the Saints' kick returner, averaging 22 yards a return. The running back broke in with special teams before succeeding Deuce McAllister as the team's primary tailback.

I-10 Runs Through Nola; the Playoffs Don't

With the Saints' loss in Baltimore, the Atlanta Falcons secured the NFC South division title. And for another season, no team has been able to win that division two years in a row. The best the Saints can hope for now is to win the NFC's top wild card spot (5th seed), which the Black and Gold currently occupy. The Saints currently have a two-game lead over Tampa Bay and Green Bay and a one game lead over the New York Giants before delving into the world of tie-breakers.

The only way the Saints would host a playoff game is if they secure the fifth seed and win the wild card game and divisional game on the road and that the other wild card team also runs the table. In that high;y unlikely scenario, the NFC Championship game would be played in the Superdome.

If the Saints do hold on and end up the fifth seed, they would play the wild card round game in whichever NFC West (worst) team limps out as the winner (dare I use such a term as no team can have a winning record in that professional football ghetto). Unless I am mistaken, Saint Louis, Seattle and amazingly enough 5-9 San Francisco are still in the hunt.

If you paid your playoff ticket invoice by last Friday, consider it a downpayment on next year's season tickets- unless of course there is a lock-out- which is more likely than the Saints hosting a playoff game.

For the Birds

File this one under least relevant statistic, but of the Saints' now four losses on the season, three have been against teams who have birds for mascots. Another reason to hope that the Saints won't have to make a road trip to Philly in the post-season.

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