Bottom line is the Saints team wasn’t good enough against Packers
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 24, 2023
The New Orleans Saints have endured a lot of especially painful losses in their 57 seasons.
One of them occurred Sunday.
The 18-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field immediately brought to mind an outcome that occurred just 292 days earlier.
The 17-16 loss to the Buccaneers in Tampa last January unfolded in a very similar manner to the loss Sunday.
On Sunday the Saints dominated into the fourth quarter before getting outscored 18-0 during the final 11 minutes.
In Tampa the Saints dominated into the fourth quarter before getting outscored 14-0 in the final three minutes.
In both games a Herculean defensive effort for most of the game was wasted because the offense didn’t hold up its end well enough – especially when things tightened late – and the defense couldn’t maintain near perfection for a full 60 minutes.
Both of these losses share another trait, which also is a feature of numerous other painful losses that need not be relieved here – multiple candidates for blame if one is inclined to pin the responsibility on individuals.
Naturally, when teams collapse late and turn an all-but-certain victory into a shocking defeat, the list of candidates for blame begins with the coaching staff.
The head coach comes first because that’s where the buck stops – and it’s true that Dennis Allen was head coach (as well as de facto defensive coordinator) for the melt-down against Tampa Bay and he was head coach (as well as de facto defensive coordinator) for the melt-down against Green Bay.
But it’s difficult to uncover any specific short-coming by Allen that turned Sunday’s game in the Packers’ favor. It is, though, worth noting that he was the orchestrator of both of the recent masterful defensive efforts that made victory seemed assured as well as the defensive collapses that ultimately contributed to defeats.
Next up is offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. The offense didn’t score in the second half as six possessions featured five punts and one missed field goal.
As the lead gradually dwindled from 17 points to 14 to six and ultimately transformed into a deficit, one more score or just a few first downs and increased time of possession could have made the difference.
But the problem with playing coulda, woulda, shoulda is it requires an assumption that any hinge point would have automatically produced the desired result if only an alternative approach had been taken.
“Why did Carmichael throw? The incompletion stopped the clock” is interchangeable with “Why did Carmichael go conservative and run the ball when a first down could have ended it?”
Of course potential scapegoats are not limited to the coaching staff.
The backup quarterback routinely goes from the most popular player on the team to a candidate for game-losing blame as soon as he takes a snap.
Jameis Winston was thrust into the game cold when Derek Carr suffered a shoulder injury with New Orleans leading 17-0 midway through the third quarter. Winston went on to complete 10 of 16 passes for 101 yards.
He was at the helm for a six and out, a three and out, a five and out and another three and out. Then after the Packers took the lead with 2:56 left Winston drove the Saints 47 yards in eight plays.
He completed four of six passes for gains of five, 28, 10 and two yards (on third and eight).
That led to Blake Grupe’s 46-yard field-goal attempt that would have given the Saints a two-point lead with 65 seconds left. But the undrafted rookie, who had made his first six NFL field-goal attempts was wide right from 46 yards.
Another problem with assigning blame is those perceived to be responsible for pivotal plays late often times make significant plays early that made victory seem attainable in the first place.
Hence the New Orleans secondary.
During Green Bay’s three scoring drives in the fourth quarter Jordan Love passed for 104 yards and a touchdown. But he threw more incompletions (nine) than completions (seven) and players such as Alontae Taylor, Isaac Yiadom, Lonnie Johnson Jr., Marshon Lattimore, Tyrann Mathieu and Jordan Howden made countless good plays as the 17-0 lead was being built.
It must be noted that back-to-back defensive pass interference penalties – 45 yards on Taylor and 22 on Yiadom – accounted for all but 13 of the yards that the Packers traveled to score their first touchdown, which was a huge momentum builder.
Blaming the two defensive backs and blaming the officials are equally fruitless endeavors. Scapegoats are as useless as silver linings.
Football is the ultimate team game. No loss – or win – can be attributed exclusively to one or two or three individuals – whether they wear a headset or a helmet.
“As a team we weren’t good enough,” Allen said. “We’ve got to be better than that.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…