Below, I complete the list I started in Part 1 of this piece. Keep in mind, these are the most memorable moments of the year both good AND bad.
5. Bucs Deliver Injury Bug (January 2nd) – What hurts the most for Saints fans reflecting back on this is that the game wound up being meaningless. However, the injuries that struck the team were anything but. Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Ivory and Jimmy Graham were all knocked out of the Tampa contest and would likewise miss the playoff contest at Seattle. It seemed all of them were badly needed against the Seahawks, especially Jenkins, as the Seahawks torched Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper in the secondary. Ivory's powerful running style was also noticeably absent. Unlike 2009 when the Saints roared into the postseason completely healthy, they were hobbling badly.
4. Brees' Monday Night March (December 27th) – The Georgia Dome roof was on the verge of blowing off midway through the fourth quarter of this Saints/Falcons affair. Drew Brees had just tossed a mind-boggling interception returned for a score by Chauncey Davis, as Atlanta gained a 14-10 advantage. Brees would be picked again off a deflection, but the Saints defense would stand their ground and get the offense football back. New Orleans would then go on its most memorable offensive march of the season…a 13-play, 92-yard drive that took 7:13 off the clock. Brees would add another chapter to his amazing legacy, firing a perfect pass to Jimmy Graham on a 3rd and 3 slant route for the game-winning 6-yard score. The Saints 17-14 victory earned the team a playoff berth and a ton of national respect from the Monday Night Football audience. It also perhaps planted a big seed of doubt in the Falcons' mind. After a win over Carolina in the regular season finale to lock up the #1 seed in the NFC, Atlanta was bounced by Green Bay at home in an embarrassing fashion.
3. Jenkins Makes Williams Thanksgiving Turkey (November 25th) – as Roy Williams sprinted his way down the field, it certainly appeared his Cowboys would beat the Saints for the second year in a row. He excelled past the Saints 20-yard line and quickly approached their goal line with just three minutes left in the game and a 30-27 Dallas lead. Even if tackled, the Cowboys would be in position to milk the remainder of the clock and kick the dagger field goal. But Malcolm Jenkins decided not to tackle the wide receiver. He found it better to just rip the ball away altogether. That's exactly what the safety did before #11 was down, causing a miracle turnover and putting the ball into Drew Brees' hands in the closing moments. The Saints would immediately march 89 yards on just 5 plays in only 1:08, climaxed by a 12-yard touchdown reception to Lance Moore. The Saints escaped with a 30-27 win, and Jenkins made Williams the ultimate turkey on this Thanksgiving occasion.
2. Hartley's Haunting Miss (September 26th) – it was only the third game of the season. The "Who Dat Nation" hoped it wouldn't haunt them for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, it would in a big way. The Saints had NFC South and arch rival Atlanta all but beat. The football rested at the Falcons' 11-yard line after a 14-yard catch and run by Devery Henderson. The Black Eyed Peas were blaring over the loudspeakers as fans danced and sang, "I've got a feeling….that tonight's gonna be a good, good night." Long-time Superdome P.A. announcer Jerry Romig even did his best Rock Flair impression, letting out a loud ""Whooooo!" All that was left was Garrett Hartley making a chip shot 29-yard field goal and the Saints would improve to 3-0 with a 27-24 win. More importantly, they would hold the early tiebreaker over "The Dirty Birds." Nope. Are you kidding me?!! Wide left. Hartley yanked the try no good and Atlanta promptly marched 57 yards in the other direction. Matt Bryant blasted his 46-yard try dead center and it was the Falcons flying away with the 27-24 upset. Sure, the Saints made numerous mistakes before Hartley's miss that cost them. But when you can end the game from point-blank range and you miss…that's a hard thing to ignore. The Saints would end up chasing Atlanta all season for not only the NFC South title, but also the #1 seed in the NFC. They never would catch them, and the 11-win Saints were forced to travel 2,200 miles to the Pacific Northwest.
1. Lynch Levels "Two Dat" Hopes (January 8th) – Sorry … don't kill the messenger. But there's little doubt what memory Saints fans will take with them into the offseason more than any other. Seattle Seahawk's running back, Marshawn Lynch, seemed to level the entire New Orleans defense on his way to a 67-yard touchdown romp that locked up his team's 41-36 opening round playoff win and ended all hopes of the Saints "Two Dat." The play was replayed ad nauseam on ESPN and was even the subject of one of their "Sports Science" pieces. Yeah, they broke down Lynch's run repeatedly and from all different angles. Instead of Tracy Porter locking up a Super Bowl triumph with a pick six against Peyton Manning, he was tossed roughly six yards down the field by a Lynch stiff arm. In a way, the Saints' inability to tackle on this play summed up the lack of hunger they had after winning it all. No doubt they were good, finishing 11-5 and reaching the postseason for the second straight season. However, they simply weren't special. The Saints should replay Lynch's score in their minds all summer….to motivate themselves back towards the Lombardi Trophy in 2011.