Almost two weeks have passed since the New Orleans Saints season has ended. With that in mind, it's time to reflect on the most memorable moments of the 2010 season. That means the good AND the bad. Off the top of my head, counting down to the biggest, here we go.
10. Opening Night Ceremonies (September 9th) – Drew Brees walked to the 30-yard line alone, raised his right arm and pointed his finger to the sky. Brees then emphatically dropped to the ground and a new Saints pregame ritual was born The Louisiana Super Dome erupted into the most passionate "Who Dat" chant ever, which was actually the loudest the arena got all evening for the NFL season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. The chant, combined with the lowering of a world championship banner and hours of national pregame coverage from the "Big Easy"… was probably more memorable than the Saints 14-9 victory itself. It delivered the clear message to the world … we were truly in a new era of Saints football.
9. Cleveland Rocks, Browns Deliver Brees Nightmare (October 24) – Wake-up calls usually aren't pleasant. Whether it's that annoying bomp-bomp of your alarm clock near your head or the grounds keepers at your complex cranking up their weed eaters at 7:30 am, we don't enjoy being awakened in startling fashion. The Saints were indeed kicked in the head hard on this occasion and this debacle made it clear Brees would have his problem with interceptions in 2010. He would throw an astonishing four picks, two of which were returned for touchdowns in a 30-17 Browns rout. After tossing only 11 interceptions all year during the Saints Super Bowl run the year before (0 in four playoff games), Brees doubled that number with 22 this season. It obviously wasn't all #9's fault. A lack of a running game, numerous drops by wide receivers and many injuries played largely into these interception issues.
8. Bengals Blink (December 5) – It was a play that epitomized what the Saints USED TO BE, losers. You could say the ultimate case of "stealing defeat from the jaws of victory". The Cincinnati Bengals played the role of those old Saints on this occasion. They staggered into the game with an 8-game losing streak, but playing at home, in the cold, the Bengals held a 30-27 lead with less than a minute to play in regulation. At worst, it appeared the Saints would kick a field goal to send the affair into overtime. However, as the Saints lined up for a 4th and 2 situation at the Cincinnati 7-yard line … the Bungles reappeared. Drew Brees had no intention of snapping the football, but defensive tackle Pat Sims thought differently. On a play called "No brainer freeze" or "Brain Freeze"… Brees barked and Sims jumped into the neutral zone. The goof resulted in a 5-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the Saints. On the very next play Brees fired a three-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston with just 31 seconds left. New Orleans 34, Cincinnati 30.
7. Bush Breaks Leg (September 20) – Reggie Bush had looked so good during the preseason. So good. He was running hard between the tackles, he was breaking huge gainers as a dangerous pass-receiving weapon out of the backfield. Head Coach Sean Payton praised his efforts and likewise looked forward to a huge year from #25. During the Saints second game of the season at San Francisco, Bush continued to play well. He made a 6-yard touchdown reception and also delivered an electric 43-yard punt return. Little did we know, those would basically be the only two-big plays Bush would enjoy all year. Midway thru the fourth quarter, his leg was broken after scrambling to recover a fumbled punt. Bush would miss eight games and struggle to have an impact once he returned. The injury likewise threw the Saints offense out of whack, as they struggled to find their identity. It would be Reggie's toughest year as pro and put his future with the club in serious doubt.
6. Steelers Stuffed at 1 (October 31) – A national television audience tuned in on Halloween Night, to watch a heavyweight collision between the two powers that had won the previous two Super Bowls. The 4-3 New Orleans Saints had their collective backs to the wall against Pittsburgh, after their debacle against the Browns the week before. At least 17,777 fans were in costume, a new Guinness Book of World Records. Many were nervous their Saints would drop to a 4-4 at midseason, a far cry from the blitzing 8-0 mark from the year before. In a scoreless game during the second quarter, Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El made a tough catch from Ben Roethlisberger and crashed into the end zone for an apparent score. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field, but Coach Payton disagreed. He challenged the call, much to the chagrin of Al Michaels, Chris Collingsworth and millions of others watching at home. Even if Payton was correct … the ball would be placed on the two-inch line. Certainly Roethlisberger could sneak in from there, regardless. Right? Payton won the challenge and the Steelers got stubborn, handing off on three straight rushing plays. Sedrick Ellis, Scott Shanle, Roman Harper, Jeff Charleston and Jonathan Vilma all played huge roles in stuffing those plays and forcing a chip-shot field goal. The Saints might have fallen behind 3-0, but they had won the battle and would go to win the war. The momentum would snowball, as Drew Brees would hit 20 of 22 passes during the second half and the Saints would earn a huge 20-10 win. The triumph would spark a 6-game winning streak and would propel the Saints to their second straight playoff appearance.