LSU’s win, Saints’ loss are reminders that expectations don’t matter

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Michael Thomas
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

Football games don’t always turn out the way observers anticipate that they will.

Outcomes of games aren’t determined by team records going into the game, point spreads or perceptions of the two teams.

That’s why games are played – to determine which is the better team in that game on that day.

Period.

Local football observers got two stark reminders of this in less than 24 hours over the weekend – one from each perspective.

LSU went into The Swamp in Gainesville on Saturday night as a more-than-three-touchdown underdog to the No. 6 Gators.

The Tigers were 3-5. They were down to barely 50 scholarship players. They were seven days removed from a 55-17 thrashing at the hands of No. 1 Alabama.

They were less than two weeks removed from seeing top receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. quit the team to focus on getting ready for the NFL Draft. They were just a couple of days removed from seeing their second-leading receiver – star tight end Arik Gilbert – leave the team, reportedly because of homesickness for the Marietta, Georgia, native, as well as learning that the university had decided that the players would forego any potential chance to play in a bowl bid to try and mitigate NCAA penalties for violations within the program.

There was a lot of stuff going on. None of it good.

Everything was going quite well for Florida though. It had won the SEC East title a week earlier and had the rescheduled game against LSU as a tune-up for its showdown with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on December 19.

The Gators figured to take care of the Tigers in short order, pull their most important players early and get ready for Alabama and an opportunity to win the SEC title and get into the College Football Playoff.

Then the game was played.

Florida had more talent. It had more depth. It gained more yards. It kept threatening to take control. It never did.

LSU was short-handed. Freshman quarterback Max Johnson was making his first college start.

LSU had an early goal-line stand. It took the ball away from Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask three times in the first half. It kept bouncing back. The game was tied late. Cade York made a 57-yard field goal. Florida’s kicker missed a 51-yard field goal as time expired.
LSU won 37-34.

It got some breaks along the way. Trask had a careless grounding penalty as the Gators were poised to take a late lead on a touchdown but settled instead for a tying touchdown.

A brain cramp led a Florida defender to throw an LSU player’s shoe and draw a penalty that revived the game-winning drive.

That’s why they play the game – to see what happens.

Florida has been a better team than LSU all season long. The teams’ records prove it.
LSU was the better team Saturday.

The scoreboard proved it.

The New Orleans Saints are a much better team the Philadelphia Eagles. Their respective records prove it. The Saints are 10-3 and headed to the playoffs. The Eagles are 4-8-1 and unlikely to make the playoffs even in the increasingly less woeful NFC East.

But the Eagles were the better team Sunday in Philadelphia. The scoreboard proved it: Eagles 24, Saints 21.

Philadelphia, like LSU, had a quarterback making his first career start in Jalen Hurts.

The Saints had won nine is a row and the Eagles had lost four in a row. The Saints were fighting to maintain the top seed and the only bye in the NFC playoffs. The Eagles were playing primarily for pride and respect.

The Eagles played hard and smart and bold from the opening kickoff. The Saints started “flat” (according to head coach Sean Payton and every other minimally observant watcher). They were sloppy and tentative.

Philadelphia rolled to a 17-0 halftime lead. New Orleans played harder and smarter and better in the second half but never caught up.

So now the Saints are the No. 2 seed in the NFC, having fallen behind Green Bay.

There is much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands in Who Dat Nation.

The road to the Super Bowl suddenly seems much more difficult to navigate.

Can the Saints possibly beat the Super Bowl champion Chiefs on Sunday in the Superdome – with or without Drew Brees?

The Chiefs are favored. They’re the hottest team in the NFL, thanks to that Saints loss.

The Saints can’t possibly afford another loss if they’re going to win that must-have bye.

Can the Packers possibly lose against Carolina, Tennessee or Chicago? They’re sure to be favored in all three games.

If the Saints wind up as the No. 2 seed they might have to face the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

In January. In really cold Green Bay rather than the really comfortable Superdome.

Can the Saints still get the No. 1 seed?

If they don’t can they possibly win three playoff games to get to the Super Bowl?

Ask Florida. Ask LSU. Ask the Eagles.

And ask the Saints themselves.

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

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…

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