Saints current quarterback questions reminiscent of 2002

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Jameis Winston
(Photo: William E. Anthony)

Twenty years later, the comparisons are obvious.

I hear it daily on radio shows on NASH ICON 106.1 FM, in e-mails, via social media, through texts and as a guest on other shows in other markets.

The current situation surrounding the New Orleans Saints and their quarterbacks is similar to what we saw in 2002.

During that season, the Saints were cruising toward a playoff appearance at 9-4 through 13 games. That’s when the roof caved in as New Orleans lost its final three games to finish 9-7 and out of the postseason.

The issue for head coach Jim Haslett was whether to play an injured Aaron Brooks or to sit him. Brooks toughed it out, playing hurt. It was commendable.

It did not work so well.

In the first loss, a 32-31 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings, Brooks actually played well, completing 21 of 33 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. Brooks, who was known for extending plays and his running ability, gained just five yards rushing on three plays, reluctant to take off with his injury.

Minnesota won the game by scoring with five seconds left on a 13-yard pass from Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss. The Vikings then gambled, going for the win on a two-point conversion attempt. Culpepper ran it in for the victory.

Then came a trip to Cincinnati. Aanother loss, this time 20-13 to a truly terrible 1-13 Bengals team. The Saints led 13-7 going to the fourth quarter and watched the Bengals rally in the fourth quarter for the win.

Brooks suffered through a bad game, completing just 16 of 38 passes for 203 yards with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Donte Stallworth. Once again not making a difference with his legs, he rushed just four times for three yards.

The season finale was at home against Carolina and the offense sputtered again in a 10-6 loss. Brooks was poor, completing just 12 of 31 passes for 145 yards with two interceptions. He ran just twice for eight yards.

The Panthers game featured a significant number of boos from the home crowd, who watched their team collapse. The Saints would have been in the playoffs with a win.

While Brooks drew the ire of fans, he was playing with an injured throwing shoulder. The decision to play Brooks begged the question of Haslett: Should Brooks have been playing or should Haslett have gone with an unproven second-year reserve named Jake Delhomme?

Delhomme, who had started just two NFL games and played in just six league games in his first two seasons, ended up being an outstanding starter in the NFL. Signing in the following offseason with Carolina, the Louisiana native ultimately led the Panthers to a Super Bowl. Many lamented what could have been with the Saints.

Fast forward to 2022.

Jameis Winston, whether you feel he is good enough to be a winning quarterback in the NFL or not, is playing injured. Make that very injured.

Winston wears a brace on his surgically repaired knee while also nursing a very sore ankle. Add to that the fact he is dealing with four fractures in his back.

It’s fair to say Winston is not playing well but neither is the New Orleans offense as a whole. Regardless of what the numbers say, Winston has been ineffective outside of the fourth quarter rally in Atlanta. He does not look comfortable at times.

How can he be with what his injury burdens?

Dennis Allen is faced with the dilemma of whether to continue down the road with Winston or to go to his backup in Andy Dalton.

While the comparisons to the 2002 season are clear, there is one clear difference as well. While Delhomme was very young and had very little experience as an unproven player, Dalton is an older, proven veteran who has a ton of experience.

Andy Dalton
(Photo: Parker Waters)

Dalton has started 148 regular season games and has a winning record (77-69-2) in games he started. He took four Cincinnati teams to the playoffs (2011-14).

While he struggled in the playoffs and the Bengals never won a playoff game, Dalton has been there and done that in this league. He remains capable of playing at a solid level in winning fashion.

The Saints went out and signed Dalton quickly in free agency for such a time as this. While all of Winston’s issues are not physical, he is obviously hampered by his current condition.

Will that condition get much better, if any better at all?

Allen is in his first year as the head coach of what has been a highly successful franchise in recent years. While this is a proving ground for Winston, it is also a proving ground for Allen.

As the phrase goes, that is why they pay Allen the big bucks. It is now his job here to make the big, difficult decisions.

For now, Allen is going Tammy Wynette to stand by his man. Will he have to man-up and make the tough call to make a move?

Much depends on how the Saints look offensively in London. While Minnesota is good offensively, the Vikings defense is not an elite unit. After playing very well in a season-opening win over the Packers, Minnesota has allowed 48 points in its last two games.

With the parity in the NFL this season, only two teams remain unbeaten after three weeks. Just one of those (Philadelphia) resides in the NFC.

It is way too early to push the panic button. It is not too early to consider serious change if the offensive issues continue to be serious.

Here’s hoping that Winston can find his footing, some level of consistency, a rhythm and success. Here is hoping that if he cannot, Allen does what he must do to try to win games.

Haslett did not do so in 2002, with a young quarterback in reserve. Allen has not done so yet in 2022, with a seasons quarterback in reserve.

Make the comparisons. Draw your own conclusions.

The call to make is certainly one which produces confusion.

Both quarterbacks in question (Brooks, Winston) wore and wear the number two. The former never ceded his spot to the number two quarterback. Will the same be true of the latter?

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Ken Trahan

CEO/Owner

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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