16 September 2013

Same As It Ever Was?

2-0, with two division wins to boot, isn't exactly problematic.

It might not be the prettiest 2-0 start, but right now the aesthetics of a victory are about as meaningful as a sworn declaration from Mike Cerullo.

Sunday's win in Tampa was among the strangest in recent memory, and the hazy aftermath is still lingering a day later.

courtesy of neworleanssaints.com

It all started with a lightning storm and an hour delay, and it resumed with a desperate, clownish, chaotic Bucs' team out for blood. Drew Brees sustained a near-devastating hit that, miraculously, didn't knock him out of the game or seriously injure him.

As if that wasn't enough, Jimmy Graham took a blatant, vicious, frightening shot to his head that bent him backwards but, somehow, left him unscathed. Incredibly, Ahmad Black (who delivered the hit on Graham) was not ejected. He should expect a fine from the league office this week somewhere in the neighborhood of $17 million dollars.

He should also spend a bit more time in the film room if he wants to stop Graham in week 17.

Seeing the Saints' two main offensive playmakers dust off those killshots and play on was a sign of things to come: The Saints might have appeared dead-to-rights, but they weren't. And they hung around for the last word.

Temporarily down, but not out.

In one minute, the Saints' offense erased fifty-nine minutes of frustrating hopelessness and, finally, delivered when it counted most. Graham, Sproles, Colston. 2-0.

For their part on Sunday, the offense looked as confounded and aimless as they ever have under Sean Payton. The offensive line was a disaster. Mark Ingram continued to reprise his role as Achilles' heel, and the Saints bumbled their way out of points time and again. Were it not for an all-time day from the dominant Jimmy Graham, the Saints would've limped out of Tampa with a loss.

But alas, all sixty minutes count and when the offense had their final shot, they delivered on the shoulders of a massive catch from Marques Colston.

Colston continues to fortify his place among the greats in Saints' history. The franchise leader in receptions and touchdowns (and yards soon enough), Colston again showed why he is as good of a possession receiver as exists in the NFL today. Were it not for Colston's repeated catches under pressure in the first two weeks, the Saints would likely be 0-2.

Colston's two key catches against Atlanta (one for a touchdown, the other to set up the insurance field goal) presaged his plate-setting reception against the Bucs. Without Colston thus far in 2013, the Saints might be in a world of shit.

Either way, at this point in Colston's career, Colston's selflessness and humility seem to amplify his greatness. The less he says, the more he does, the more resounding the impact of his skills, toughness, and dependability.

If you're looking for a reason (beyond the play of the defense) the Saints are 2-0 this morning, look no farther than the great Marques Colston.

On the other hand, if you're looking to assign blame for the Saints' offensive shortcomings, then maybe relax a little bit first. Sean Payton is still knocking off the rust.

Now, with that said, let's assign some blame.

The offensive line is under a significant reconstruction with the losses of Aaron Kromer and Jermon Bushrod, and reeling from consecutive quizzical performances by (a hurt?) Jahri Evans. The competence of the offensive line is critical to the Saints' big picture goals, and I trust Sean Payton to address this and adjust accordingly. This isn't Steve Spagnuolo we're working with here.

Additionally, let's hope that Sean Payton will eventually admit defeat over the failed Ingram experience. It's time to minimize from the game plan a player whose confidence is shattered, and whose presence on the field hinders the efforts of the offense. Payton might be obstinate, but he wants to win above all else.

Mostly, if there's anything to be confident in, it's that Payton will remedy the woes of his offense. After six seasons of watching Payton, we shouldn't doubt this.

Even better, Payton can work on the improvements with two wins under his belt, and with the strength of a confident, aggressive, burgeoning defense under Rob Ryan.

That defense, by the way, is a sight to behold.

The Saints' defense in 2013, much like the Saints' offenses of recent yore, has brushed off a wave of injuries and shined nonetheless. After two games, this defense believes in itself and has led the way to a 2-0 start.

There's a sense of urgency in the way they've played--intent, fast, and effective. This is translating (at least for me) into a newfound, calming trust. Combine that with a timely dose of some luck in both weeks, and the Saints are winning when maybe they otherwise wouldn't have.

If this is the way the Saints are going to win--"winning ugly"--then so be it. It counts all the same.

Cam Jordan looks like one of the better defensive ends in the league. Curtis Lofton played exceptionally well yesterday. Kenny Vaccaro is a sledgehammer. There's something here. Maybe even a lot.

If 2013 means grinding out defensive wins in the absence of a dominant offense, then that's far better than the alternative of yesteryear.

All in all, after two games, there's plenty to improve upon. But moreso than that, hope is plentiful. When the Payton-led Saints win with defense, and in spite of their offensive failings, then that's the best takeaway from everything that's happened thus far in 2013.

It's a long season and it's not always going to be easy or pretty. It's almost never going to unfold according to plan. But in the end, it's only the wins that matter.

After two games, in that regard, the Saints have been perfect. What else can you ask for?

Remember, it took almost eight weeks for the Saints to kick into high gear in 2011. We're just getting started here.

Enjoy the ride.

... A late edit, but this should be included, even though I neglected to say it:

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