The New Orleans Saints couldn’t have picked a worse time to turn in one of their most disappointing performances of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era in their 26-9 loss to the visiting Atlanta Falcons yesterday afternoon.
While on the surface the disappointing loss doesn’t appear to have lessened the Black and Gold’s chances of making the NFL playoffs, it could potentially have long-term effects with regard to how New Orleans will ultimately be seeded once the post-season begins in January.
The Saints — who prior to yesterday’s kick-off were an overwhelming 14-point favorite to beat their long-time archrivals at home inside the Superdome — not only failed to take advantage of the opportunity to widen their NFC South Division lead to a full three games over the Carolina Panthers, but also now face the likelihood of losing any shot they had at earning home-field advantage and a 1st Round Bye.
Saints steamrolled by Falcons in biggest upset of season – ESPN https://t.co/ha1EJiQRv1
— USA Sport24 (@USASport24) November 11, 2019
That the Saints gave one of their most disappointing performances to a team that had only won one game this year was bad enough. However, it also came at a time when they appeared to have had a golden opportunity to become the NFC’s top-seeded playoff team and earn themselves a clear path to the Super Bowl.
Though Atlanta clearly outperformed New Orleans in all three aspects (offense, defense, and special teams) of the game, they were further aided by the uncharacteristic and undisciplined effort of the Saints that saw them penalized 12 times for a total of 90 yards; four of them coming on illegal hands to the face calls against the Saints’ defensive line.
That, along with what may have been the worst overall performances in recent memory by the Saints’ top-rated offensive line that saw starting #1 QB Drew Brees sacked for a career-high six times, was enough to allow the Falcons to pull off what many observers and analysts were calling the biggest upset of the 2019 NFL Season thus far.
The loss by New Orleans also ended their six-game winning streak, while Atlanta managed to snap their six-game losing streak in the process.
“I’ve been a part of many games where maybe you don’t play your best for the first three quarters, maybe things just don’t go your way or whatever it is”, Brees told reporters in the team’s post-game press conference.
I’ll start the Drew Brees Press conference thread with the final 30 seconds of it.
Here’s how he left the podium ⚜️
— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) November 10, 2019
“And then you just made you fight, scratch, claw, you keep fighting and then all of a sudden you’re in a position where you’ve got the ball and you’re down six and you have a chance to go win. Unfortunately, for us in that fourth quarter, what we missed on three, fourth downs or something like that? Come on that’s not us, we’re better than that.”
Brees’ sentiment about yesterday’s stunning loss that dropped the Saints’ overall win-loss record to (7-2) overall with seven regular season games left to play, was further echoed by head coach Sean Payton.
“Obviously it was a disappointing finish for us. First thing I would say, give Atlanta credit. They beat us well in all three areas. They played better than us. Pick a situation and there’s a good chance they won that situation. Third down, they were better both sides of the ball. Penalties they were better. Collectively we’ve got to do a better job and that starts with me,” Payton said.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) November 10, 2019
“It’s kind of one of those, it’s not a lesson, but this league is too good week-to-week where you can go in and not be focused and ready. This has always been a game played with emotion and I thought they outplayed us. They outplayed us, they outcoached us, and they deserve to win.”
Clearly, the Black and Gold’s lackluster effort should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who had the false impression that New Orleans was going to have an advantage simply handed over to them. Moving forward, it’s become evident that the Saints will have to give their best effort week in and week out as the schedule enters into the final “stretch run” of the regular season.
It’s a stretch run that won’t be easy by any means, with games against division rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina up next in successive weeks, followed by a rematch against the Falcons at Atlanta on Thanksgiving Night.
All three of those divisional games will take place before New Orleans returns home to the Superdome on December 8th to face the NFC’s top team, the undefeated San Francisco 49ers in what likely will be the game that determines where the Saints will be seeded in the post-season.
For now, the Saints will need to play much better than they did yesterday if they harbor any hope of entering the playoffs with any sort of momentum which could help them obtain their well-known goal of winning Super Bowl LIV (54) in Miami, FL in February.
That means taking advantage of any opportunities that might come their way between now and the final week of the 2019 NFL Regular Season — just like the one yesterday that was missed in one of the most disappointing overall performances by the team in recent memory.
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius