Saints must overcome second week blues in Charlotte
It was a good, promising start. Far from a football version of a beauty pageant, the season opening win for the New Orleans Saints over the visiting Tennessee Titans was well-earned.
Winning ugly is a pretty picture.
The picture painted by the Saints to start regular seasons is beautiful of late. The team has now won a franchise-record five consecutive season openers.
What has followed is ugly though.
New Orleans has followed up its last four-season opening wins with second week losses. The clear hope is that the trend will be reversed next Monday night in Charlotte.
The memories and facts linger. Despite mitigating circumstances in two of the Week Two losses (Drew Brees was knocked out of the game early in a loss at Los Angeles to the Rams, and eight coaches were unavailable due to COVID-19 in a loss at Carolina), the record is the record.
Jameis Winston guided the Saints to a stirring fourth quarter comeback in a 27-26 win at Atlanta to start the 2022 season. Winston passed for 269 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to Michael Thomas. Wil Lutz drilled a 51-yard field goal with 19 seconds to provide the margin of victory.
Morale was high.
Expectations were high.
What followed was the lowest of lows.
The Saints lost the following week, 20-10 to Tampa Bay as Winston was picked off three times and got sacked six times.
The Saints lost 22-14 at Carolina. Though Winston passed for 354 yards, he suffered two more interceptions.
Then came a trip to London to face Minnesota. Andy Dalton took over for Winston at quarterback, and the Saints moved the ball, producing 25 points. However, a 61-yard field goal attempt by Lutz just missed as time expired in a 38-25 loss that handed New Orleans their third straight defeat. The Saints made crucial mistakes in London to come up short.
New Orleans never recovered, slipping to 4-9 before winning three straight games later in the season.
In 2021, in Sean Payton’s final season with the Saints, New Orleans destroyed Green Bay 38-3 in the season opener at Jacksonville as Winston threw five touchdown passes. It was an awesome performance and stirring performance in all phases. The offense was terrific. The defense was great against Aaron Rodgers. The kicking game was sound.
It looked like the Saints were ready to roll.
Then came a trip to Carolina.
The Panthers shut down the Saints, winning 26-7 as Winston threw for just 111 yards, was sacked four times and picked off twice. The Saints had just 128 yards of total offense. Carolina dominated, possessing the ball for 38:32 to just 21:28 for the Saints.
New Orleans was without eight assistant coaches due to COVID 19 protocols, including five offensive coaches. Payton said afterward that the loss had nothing to do with the Saints being short-handed in the coaching department.
In 2020, the Saints won their season opener 34-23 over Tampa Bay. In week two, New Orleans went to Las Vegas and lost 34-24 to the Raiders.
While Drew Brees passed for 312 yards and the Saints amassed 424 yards of offense, the Raiders handled the New Orleans defense as Derek Carr completed 28 of 38 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns.
The Saints then fell to 1-2 with a 37-30 home loss to Green Bay before a sparse crowd in the COVID, crowd-restricted 2020 NFL season.
Of course, New Orleans got it going and went on to a 12-4 season, an NFC South title, but lost to the Buccaneers at home in the playoffs, the last playoff appearance in the final game of the illustrious career of Brees.
In 2019, the Saints won their season opener 30-28 over Houston as Lutz nailed a 58-yard field goal as time expired. It was a euphoric moment.
It did not last.
In week two, the Saints went to Los Angeles and lost 27-9 to the Rams as Brees suffered an injury to his thumb, which would require surgery.
While Teddy Bridgewater stepped up and guided New Orleans to five straight wins, the storyline remains the same.
While the Saints have won five straight season openers, they have lost their last four games in week two. They have lost their last two games in Charlotte, both early in the season after solid starts.
Can the Saints flip the script and change that direction?
Win the turnover battle, as they did against Tennessee. Limit penalties, as they did to a acceptable degree with just 45 yards incurred against the Titans. Getting a call from officials, such as the clear pass interference infraction committed by Elijah Molden on Chris Olave inside the Titans five-yard line, would have certainly helped.
There is much to clean up and improve upon. The Saints moved the football well against Tennessee but left a lot of points on the field.
Scoring 16 points will not win many games in the NFL. Settling for field goals, rather than scoring touchdowns is not the optimum situation.
Fumbling away the opening kickoff cannot happen again. Throwing an interception late in the half, when in clear field goal range, must be eliminated. The running game must be more productive as 69 yards and a 2.6 yards per rush will not get it done. Of course, the Saints may not face as good of a defensive front and run defense as the Titans field all season but the running game struggled for New Orleans throughout the preseason as well.
Being 1-0 is a positive. Following it up with a win is desirable, needed to set in motion a good season. Following it up with a loss for a fifth straight season would be a clear setback and an indication that the current Saints are not ready to take the next step.
Two of the most recent early season losses have come in Charlotte with the New Orleans offense never getting out of neutral.
It is go-time, to put the car in motion in forward, speedy fashion with Carr at the wheel.
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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…