Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It allows us to look back at the past and point to random events and say things like, “I should have known the Mayans were completely wrong about the end of the world because it would never end before I had to spend nine hours at the mall getting my mom a completely meaningless gift card to Orange Julius.”
Same thing with the Saints 2012 season, because looking back there were some seemingly random events that if we were paying attention would have given us clues to how things were going to turn out and given us clues to how 2013 could go.
Things like Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert going 13 for 16 in the preseason. At the time we ignored it because the Saints had gone 37-11 the previous three years, but seriously, Blaine Gabbert would have trouble completing 81 percent of his passes against a defense of 11 drunken fraternity brothers. Gabbert is going to be doing color commentary on Big East football games in two years if the Big East even exists by then.
When this happened a smart person might have said something like, “When you let Blaine Gabbert complete 81 percent of his throws you are a great candidate to allow the most yards in NFL history.” Matt Schaub also threw the football against the Saints in August as if the defense wasn’t even there, so the lesson, kids, is that in 2013 the Saints defense is so bad they don’t get the benefit of the doubt come preseason 2013.
While hindsight showed the defense was only truly capable of improving from historically bad to awful, it also told us the Saints wouldn’t quit in 2012.
I’ll admit when they were 0-4 I thought the Saints were certainly headed for a 5-11 disaster of a year. National writers like Michael Silver of Yahoo predicted a locker room that would feel sorry for itself and things would be ugly the entire season.
Not so much.
The weight of Roger Goodell’s bounty witch-hunt and the 0-4 start were indeed too much to overcome as far as a winning season but the Saints never folded up.
Jimmy Graham’s game-saving fumble recovery in Dallas showed while Sean Payton may have been gone, the great team culture he put in place is still very much alive. In overtime Graham, who has not played nearly as well as he did in 2011, dislocated a finger, had it popped back in, returned to the game, then hustled his butt off and fought off three Cowboys to recover Marques Colston’s fumble.
The Saints were 6-8 at the time and playing for nothing but pride. Graham could have said, “My finger just got mangled and looks like linguini so I’m done.” I doubt anyone would have questioned his commitment or toughness. Graham instead went back in and saved the day.
I’ve said before I don’t think winning at the end of a season carries over to the next but how a team prepares and competes does. When Sean Payton returns he won’t find any bad habits developed. The Saints still play just as hard as when he was on the sideline, and that’s really important heading to 2013.
Sean Payton sabbatical spot of the week: Iceland
Many Icelanders believe in elves. Certain roads have been re-routed to avoid disturbing areas where elves are thought to live. So Sean could go elf hunting or if he wants to get weird he could listen to Bjork’s music because she hails from Iceland.
Last Week: 5-0
New Orleans (-5) vs. Carolina: Not only does the fact this is the Saints final game make me sad but I will also shed a tear because we only have two more Joe Vitt press conferences.
Vitt’s Monday press conference are appointment listening. If he isn’t threatening to sing a Christmas carol or being fantastically condescending towards the media he is letting a great bit of honesty slip out.
One person I follow on Twitter summed up Joe Vitt perfectly by asking the question, “Would Joe Vitt make a great angry mall Santa?” No, HE WOULD MAKE THE GREATEST ANGRY MALL SANTA.
As far as this game goes I expect it to be the most entertaining game of the day in the NFL and even though it doesn’t mean much I’m really excited to see Cam Newton and Drew Brees battle in person. The Saints really want to finish 8-8 and apparently by their recent play the Panthers want Ron Rivera to be their coach in 2013.
The Saints won’t have Jabari Greer so I expect Steve Smith to have somewhere between 175-200 yards receiving. He routinely kills the Saints even when they have a decent corner on him so if he gets to face Johnny Patrick any scenario is possible and all of them are bad.
On the flipside the Saints should be able to move up and down the field. The good news is no matter what happens Sunday you can be happy. If the Saints win we can celebrate an 8-8 finish after a 0-4 start. If they lose then we can be happy because they’ll get a third place schedule in 2013.
I’ll predict the former and if the Saints do finish 8-8 they’ll have done it while having four and three game losing streaks. Has that ever happened?
Seattle (-10.5) vs. St. Louis: The Saints play the NFC West and AFC East in 2013 and both of these teams will be really good. I’m not quite comfortable living in a world where Pete Carroll is really good at running an NFL team.
Philadelphia (+7.5) at New York Giants: The Giants are in a full on death spiral and they aren’t going to pull out of it and make another playoff run. They are going to crash into the ground and Andy Reid will get a nice send off in his Eagles farewell game.
Minnesota (+3) vs. Green Bay: The playoffs will be more fun with Adrian Peterson in them and doesn’t he have a 200-yard monster game in him to get them there? Yes he does.
Washington (-3) vs. Dallas: The Cowboys defense is an injured sorry mess and RGIII will destroy it in the same way Drew Brees did.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.