Saints Are Sleepless In Seattle After Playoff Elimination
The New Orleans Saints woes in the Emerald City continued on Sunday as the team fell prey to the Seattle Seahawks for the second time in five weeks and for the second consecutive time in the playoffs. New Orleans lacked any offensive mojo in the first half and dug a hole it could not climb out of. Several key players fashioned together disappointing performances while others strung together impressive showings.
TE Jimmy Graham, who accounted for over one-third of the Saints receiving touchdowns and one-fifth of the team’s receiving yards during the regular season, mustered up just one reception for a meager eight yards. To make matters worse, Graham was involved in pregame altercations with Seahawks LB Bruce Irvin and CB Richard Sherman. Graham could not back up his trash talk and seemed to motivate Sherman, who was an integral part in shutting him down and making him essentially invisible on the field.
Another disappointing effort was turned in by the Saints rushing defense, which was abysmal all game long and surrendered 174 yards and two touchdowns to Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch. The Saints were vulnerable to the run all year. Last week, they were able to shut down the prolific running attack of the Philadelphia Eagles and needed to do the same against Seattle if they stood a chance to win. Lynch, in true Beast Mode form, threw a vicious stiff-arm on CB Keenan Lewis late in the fourth quarter before recording his second score of the game that ultimately sealed the fate of New Orleans. The Saints defense had no answer to the physicality that Lynch brought and was steamrolled.
Saints running back Mark Ingram was a letdown as well, although he did perform admirably for a second consecutive week. After arguably the best game of his career against Philadelphia last week, Ingram committed a costly mistake when he fumbled the ball on the first play of the second quarter on his own 24. This was a pivotal point in the game because the Saints were already trailing 6-0 and in need of a sustainable drive. Ingram's turnover led directly to a Seahawks touchdown that put the Saints down by two possessions. Ingram went on to register a career-best 4.9 yards per carry, but nothing he did could atone for his blunder. With sure-handed back Pierre Thomas sidelined with an injury, New Orleans needed a turnover-free game from his replacement that Ingram just could not provide.
Thankfully for the Saints, there were some silver linings to this dark cloud - most notably the emergence of RB Khiry Robinson. With the aforementioned Thomas inactive and Ingram in the doghouse after his fumble, Robinson was called upon and did not disappoint. Robinson was the leading rusher for the Saints with 57 yards on 13 carriers, good enough for a 4.4 yards per carry average. He even added one reception for 13 yards to go along with his impressive day on the ground. Against Philly, Robinson averaged over five yards per carry. Robinson could emerge next season as a key component of the Saints backfield.
During the week, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcels made a phone call to New Orleans head coach Sean Payton imploring him to use Robinson more because he felt he showed the potential to develop into a back with a style similar to that of fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Martin. That is a pretty big compliment for a rookie to have bestowed upon him, and after watching his aggressive running style and ability to elude and break tackles, Parcels may be on to something.
Another positive to take from the game was the effectiveness of WR Marques Colston. With Graham a non factor, the Saints were in desperate need of someone to step up and Colston was the guy. He finished with a monster of a game, recording 11 catches for 144 yards and hauled in a fourth quarter score that brought New Orleans to within one score of sending the game into overtime. Seven of his receptions came in the final quarter when the Saints were mounting a comeback. Unfortunately, he ended the game with a bizarre illegal forward pass with just seconds remaining rather than stepping out of bounds to provide QB Drew Brees the opportunity to attempt a game-winning Hail Mary pass. It is a fitting end to a downtrodden season for Colston, who failed to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for only the second time in his career.
In a season where it seemed the Saints had the talent to make it to the Super Bowl, all that remains are the lingering repetitions of “what if” echoing throughout a dark locker room. All the Saints can do now is rectify their weaknesses and address the problems that belittled them on the road.