It’s been a long time coming.
The Payton/Loomis regime was always crashing down at some point. This is an inescapable reality for every NFL team in any given era.
Two weeks into the 2015 season, here we are faced with the ugly truth: the end of the greatest era in Saints football is on the doorstep.
For the third time in four seasons, the Saints have started 0-2. They're 7-11 in their last eighteen regular season games. They’re in a tailspin of increasing ferocity.
The modern Saints are a team built on offense, and today, that offense is a shell of its once formidable self. Since 2013, the Saints have parted ways with a long list of productive offensive players: Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham, and Kenny Stills. To date the Saints have failed to suitably replace this talent and as a result, they are no longer capable of winning games on the strength of their offense—the once signature talent of Payton’s Saints.
In the first two games this year, the Saints offense has looked passive, non-threatening, meek. This is a trend that started in 2013, bled into 2014, and seems to have cemented itself permanently in 2015. They’ve failed to push the ball downfield. They haven’t run the ball particularly well. They seem to call screen passes every other play. They strike no fear.
It’s reflective of an offensive system now unimaginative and lazily, contentedly growing old. When the Saints offense dies, so dies the Payton-era Saints. It appears we’re witnessing the death rattle.
Of course the buck stops with Sean Payton who, in my opinion, is in need of a fresh start.
Who would’ve thought Payton would ever take the ball out of Brees’s hands when the Saints had a chance to steal a win in Arizona late in the game? Who could foresee Payton punting from the opponent’s 35-yard line on the game’s opening drive at home against the lowly Bucs?
It’s been ten seasons in New Orleans for Payton, well past the average lifespan for an NFL head coach with one franchise. When you take into consideration the monumental task of rebuilding the Katrina team; the Super Bowl run; the Vicodin incident; Bountygate; a divorce; and whatever else we’re not privy to, it’s perfectly understandable to see why Payton is no longer at his best in New Orleans. We really shouldn’t fault him for a natural course of events. After all, he did the impossible in 2009. Duplicating that task was always going to be a fool’s errand, and he damn near did it anyway.
In recent years, he’s been hamstrung by his team’s drafts and contract management. The list of follies is almost endless at this point: extending the contracts of older guys like Roman Harper, Will Smith, Marques Colston, and Jahri Evans; a brutal track record in the draft embodied by Stanley Jean Baptiste; a mindless, poisonous contract extension for Junior Galette; the confounding Jairus Byrd experience; and spending valuable cap space on a luxury (C.J. Spiller) when you lack the basics (a #1 wide receiver, or a functional tight end, or a pass rusher).
This offseason, the Saints handed out hefty contracts to two runningbacks (!). Considering the Saints’ knack for finding cheap, young talent at runningback over the years, and with cap dollars at a premium, this was an errant choice with so many other holes at the time: wide receiver, tight end, cornerback, linebacker, and defensive line.
All of these missteps have eroded the Saints’ ability to compete, and it culminated in a home loss to a rookie quarterback on one of the league’s worst teams, a team that, the week prior, lost despairingly to a Tennessee Titans’ team that in week two lost badly to the hapless Cleveland Browns. This is where the Saints have arrived in 2015. At the bottom of the barrel.
They’ve lost six straight home games, their worst such streak since (gulp) 1979-1980.
And if there was ever one event that would push the Payton/Loomis Saints off the cliff, it was an arm injury to Drew Brees. Sadly, that might have happened when Brees took a nasty shot while following through on a pass against the Bucs. It might have been a fatal shot.
In 2014, Brees quietly labored through a rotator cuff injury. And since 2006, Brees has thrown an insane number of passes for the league’s pass-happiest offense. He is 36 with a significant amount of wear-and-tear on an already-once rebuilt arm.
Against the Bucs, the arm injury clearly bothered him and hampered his ability. Worse, Brees did something he’s never done in ten seasons in New Orleans: he threw duck after duck. Though I never counted myself among those who questioned Brees’s arm strength in the past, it was clear on Sunday that something was (maybe seriously) wrong, which may account for this:
I've never seen Brees as down at a post game presser as I have today.— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) September 20, 2015
Maybe it will all turn out to be nothing, and Brees will be fine.
But from what we saw on Sunday, and considering Brees’s age and his past, it’s time to brace for the worst. In the Saints’ past eighteen games, the team’s decline has proved precipitous and at this point appears irreversible.
It was always going to end like this.
No harm, no foul.
No harm, no foul.
Back to reality.