NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -Take One: Playoff disappointment
13-3 records are great, and NFC South titles are awesome. But when all those accomplishments come crashing down in the wild card round of the playoffs, one can’t help but call this season a disappointment.
After the way last season ended, the Saints were all in on a Super Bowl in 2019 but came up well short. This year though, it was their own play, not a controversy, that sent them to an early exit.
Fair or unfair, postseason failures are becoming a major part of the narrative surrounding this current Saints team. That stings considering just how much success they’ve had over this three-year period. Consecutive 13-win seasons and three straight division crowns are incredibly difficult feats to accomplish. They truly are one of the NFL’s elite.
This team has earned that elite status while also earning the expectations that come along with it. The hard truth is, since the Super Bowl, the Saints are 4-6 in the playoffs and only once have they gotten to the NFC championship game.
This year’s postseason failure was particularly puzzling. The team, as a whole, was the deepest of the Sean Payton era. In my opinion, this roster was better than the 2009, 2017, 2018 and probably 2011 teams.
Plus, this group had saved their best football for the perfect time. Unlike last season, the Saints were playing their best offensive football in December. Yet that offense laid an egg, at home, against the Vikings.
As they head into the 2020 season, the tone surrounding Sean Payton, Drew Brees, should he return, and the Saints will be different. It’s now truly all about what they do in the playoffs.
Take Two: Michael Thomas becomes league’s best wide receiver
This season was full of impressive individual accomplishments. Michael Thomas’ reception record topped the list. He became the best receiver in the NFL. Period.
149 receptions with the amount of attention opposing defenses placed on him was incredible.
He was legitimately in the MVP conversation. His season is the way it’s supposed to go after signing a record-breaking contract at the position. Thomas worked harder and got even better.
Take Three: Curious Case of Kamara
What happened to Alvin Kamara? That became a common question amongst fans and media this season.
The most reasonable explanation for his dip in production is that he was never fully healthy, despite claims to the contrary. I believe this to be the case because of their lack of creativity with him in the passing game. Kamara essentially became a screen/check down option after the injury. In ’17 & ‘18 he was much more of a dynamic downfield weapon that could run most of the receiver route tree.
I can still picture him running that slot fade for a score against Minnesota in the playoffs two years ago or beating Malcolm Jenkins on go route against Philadelphia on fourth down last season. (I can also remember Jenkins’ one-finger show of appreciation to Sean Payton afterward.) Those types of routes were nowhere to be found in the second half of the season.
His inability to make defenders miss in the ground game also became apparent. He didn’t just forget how to do those things, and he’s too young to already be on the downside of his career.
In my opinion, his lack of confidence in his health led to a frustrated disposition and an aloof body language at times in games.
Kamara is up for an extension this offseason. It’s unknown if the Saints are engaging in talks for that extension. Bottom line, this season did not help his leverage in striking a new deal.
Take Four: Taysom Hill emerges as a weapon
As the season went on it became clear how much Taysom Hill’s role evolved. When the season began, he was a jack-of-all trades type of player that would play a handful of snaps on offense and all special teams. By the end of the season though, he became one of the Saints best players on the team, regardless of position, and was too good to keep off the field.
Sunday’s wild card game is where it all came to fruition. He did it all: throwing, running and even blocking. It was his best game to date and showed his ability to take over a contest when his team needed it.
Hill is a restricted free agent, but it’s extremely unlikely the Saints will let Hill walk. He’ll get tendered at the highest level if necessary. Even if a team makes an offer, the Saints will likely match.
His quarterback development is interesting. Call me crazy, but I see a path where he can eventually be the next starting quarterback for the Saints at some point in the future. I did not feel that way going into this season.
However, it’s completely useless to have him as the backup quarterback. If Brees returns next season, the Saints should keep Hill as the third string signal-caller so he can contribute in other areas and sign a veteran as the backup if Teddy Bridgewater signs elsewhere.
Take Five: Other Observations
- Speaking of Bridgewater, his contributions to this season can’t go unnoticed. He kept the team afloat during a very uneasy period when Drew Brees went down. His future with the club though depends heavily on what Brees does. Bridgewater is a starting caliber quarterback in the NFL. If Brees retires, Bridgewater could very well be the next starter here. If Brees returns, it’s hard to imagine him not looking for a starting job elsewhere. With some solid tape from this season, Bridgewater should have a much better market for his services.
- The emergence of Deonte Harris had an impact on the Saints. His threat in the return game allowed the Saints to feel comfortable playing field position. He, along with Hill, really shined in the wild card game.
- The injuries to Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins didn’t have a huge negative impact on the team. What it did do was make 2020 a huge season for both players. For Rankins, it’s back-to-back season ending injuries. For Davenport, the development as a premier pass rusher has been erratic. He’s certainly had his moments, but that injury didn’t allow him to see how his season would have finished.
- The Saints will need to make a decision on Andrus Peat. My best guess is that he is elsewhere in 2020.