In the end, the game was officially meaningless.
The Atlanta Falcons sent John Fox out feet first as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach as the Dirty Birds won the NFC South on their own while the Green Bay Packers stifled the visiting Chicago Bears en route to securing the bottom wild card spot (sixth seed) in the NFC playoffs.
Had the Saints won on Sunday, it would not have affected their seeding, though the game will most certainly affect their capacity to compete in the post-season.
Starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins, running back Chris Ivory and tight end Jimmy Graham all left the game with injuries.
None of these players are easily replaceable. Jenkins took over the role of starter from the aging future Pro Football Hall of Famer Darren Sharper and has been referred to by the coaching staff as the best defensive player on the team. Though his path to the gridiron came at the expense of severe injuries to the four running backs penciled ahead of him in training camp, Ivory’s hard running style can’t be replicated by anyone else on the roster.
And the 2010 third round draft selection likewise found himself advanced quickly through the ranks due to injuries to first and second slotted players, but with his good hands and towering height, Graham has emerged as a favorite target for quarterback Drew Brees as of late. The Saints are running out of players for that position.
The stats from this game really don’t matter much. Well Brees’s matter to the record books as number nine continues to move the chains of his statistical legacy with the Saints franchise. What matters most is the injury report coming out of the regular season finale that had as much value as an exhibition game.
Like the inexplicable loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the first half of the season, the Saints seemed to be in control but then got sloppy as the mistakes compounded themselves and narrowed the team’s ability to slip out with a win.
The game changed on a Julius Jones fumble at the Buccaneer four yard line that was recovered by the Tampa Bay defense. Twelve plays, including a tipped ball that was caught by wide receiver Maurice Stovall for 38 yards, combined with a bone headed offsides penalty on cornerback Tracy Porter that converted a Buccaneer field goal into a first down, resulted in a touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Freeman to wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe.
Sure the officiating was awful as certain penalties were committed against the Saints that were not called, but that’s no excuse for the defending world champions to have dropped a game in their own stadium to a team loaded with rookies.
Brees was picked off for the 22nd time this season, the most in his professional career and was sacked three times, for a total of 25 in the 2010 regular season, the most while playing for the Saints. Brees also fumbled the ball on one hit.
It’s not a coincidence that the Saints lost every game this season when Brees was sacked three times.
The Saints’ offensive line, which received an award last season, isn’t earning their considerable pay in 2010. They’re not opening holes for running backs nor are they giving Brees the protection he needs to get the ball down the field.
In contrast the defense performed well, sacking Freeman three times and largely containing running back LeGarrette Blount, limiting the hurdling rhinoceros to 66 yards on the ground, Blount’s lowest rushing game since week 12 in Baltimore. It should be noted that Blount broke the 1000 rushing yard mark on Sunday despite having seen either limited or no playing time in the first five games of the season.
Even the Buccaneers’ two best receivers, wide-out Mike Williams and tight end Kellen Winslow didn’t have that great of a day.
Once again, errors and subpar play by the offense decided the Saints’ fate.
Though Payton should have benched his starters no later than halftime, the injuries to Jenkins, Ivory and Graham all happened at the earlier portion of the game.
Whether any of the Saints’ key starters should have taken the field at all since a Carolina upset of Atlanta was highly unlikely is another matter altogether.
Going into the playoffs, Marques Colston’s knee isn’t the only thing that needs to be cleaned up.
Welcome to the Field Mr. Arrington
Wide receiver Adrian Arrington, who had been on and off the Saints roster and practice squad since being drafted in the seventh round in 2008, got his first playing time in a regular season contest and made the most of it. The lanky Michigan standout led the Saints in catches (7) and receiving yards (79) including a long of 17 yards.
It was revealed prior to the game that Arrington had received active roster offers from other teams though the wide receiver declined to leave the team’s practice squad, perhaps an indication that the coaching staff has big plans for him in 2011.
Back-up quarterback Chase Daniel threw his first NFL passes, completing two of three for 16 yards.
The Long Road to the Two Dat
With the Seattle Seahawks defeating the Saint Louis Rams on Sunday night at Qwest Field, the 7-9 NFC West champions will host the Saints in the first round of NFL playoffs. It was announced before the NFC West showdown that the match-up between the NFC’s 4th and 5th seeded teams would be on Saturday afternoon, 3:30 PM local time. Bear in mind for those thinking about flying to the game that’s 1:30 PM Seattle time.
Tickets to the game are available on ticketmaster.com and other secondary ticket sites.
The Franchise Player’s All-Time Franchise Stats
Brees had his worst game of the 2010 season but still grew his all-time franchise records a bit. Brees now has 2,020 completions, 22,918 passing yards and 155 touchdown passes in a Black and Gold uniform.