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That was a really weird game. Obviously, Sean Payton's brutal torn MCL and broken kneecap injury is what immediately comes to mind. More on that in a minute. There are two ways to look at this game: either you are very concerned about the overall performance which was weak in several areas, or you can blame it on the massive void left by Sean Payton's absence on the sidelines.
I would love to blame the loss on the injury, but I can't convince myself. Yes, the play calling and clock management in the second half was questionable, and it seemed obvious to me that we were missing Payton's play-calling skills (i.e. run Sproles more!!). However, as it usual is, the Saints biggest issues were on defense. The defensive line produced absolutely no pressure on quarterback Josh Freeman and even when defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dialed up the blitz, Freeman still was barely touched.
Equally as bad was the Saints run defense. One of, if not the biggest offensive weapon for the Buccaneers is running back Legarrette Blount. He missed the game with an injury! His backup and fullback Earnest Graham filled in and ran wild all over the black and gold D, racking up 109 yards. I would also criticize the Saints secondary for making Josh Freeman look like a hall of famer, but when there is zero pressure on the quarterback, the secondary is a sitting duck.
Even Drew Breesus himself didn't have a typical, incredible day. While he did throw for an insane 383 yards, he also tossed three interceptions. Tight end Jimmy Graham had another 100+ yard performance, but also had several drops.
Okay--you get it, it was UGLY. So what's next? Getting Sean Payton back next week will be huge. I do think it will hurt a little not having him on the sidelines, but coaching from the booth (which is the plan) won't hurt his play calling. The bottom line is that Payton will likely be in the booth the rest of the season, and since that is the cards we are dealt, at least the Saints can begin this experiment against the lowly Colts and Rams in back-to-back weeks.
This loss could really come back to bite the Saints down the road in the playoff seedings. You never want to lose a game in the division, especially when the loss propels the opponent into first place and drops you down to second. The bright side? The Saints have two losses. The first was in an impossibly tough environment to open the season against the defending Super Bowl champions--and they were in it until the very end. The second was a division game on the road in which you lost your head coach just a few minutes in to the game due to a freak accident--and they were in it til the very end. It could be worse.
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