Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
On a crazy final Sunday to the NFL season, where most of the games with playoff implications were going down to the wire, the Saints' game versus Tampa Bay had all the drama of a bug fighting against an 18-wheeler on the interstate.
I’ll be honest and tell you after I finished my column last week and turned it in, I was up late on Christmas night and at about 2 a.m., I re-watched the first Saints-Bucs game. After I did, I thought, “Ralph, your Tampa pick is terrible. The Saints completely dominated the game except for two awful Drew Brees throws and Mark Ingram getting stuffed at the goal line. The Saints should’ve won that game 24-0.”
I could have rewritten my game pick, but it was the holidays and the world never ends when I make a terrible Saints prediction.
It was crystal clear after Brees' second touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham that the Saints' offense was in its normal Mercedes-Benz Superdome ‘Complete and Total Annihilation’ mode. It was business as usual at home in 2013.
Before we break down the Saints' road struggles and talk about weather or never winning an away playoff game, let’s all take a moment this week and celebrate the 2013 New Orleans Saints home awesomeness.
The Saints just finished perfect at home for the second time in three years, they haven’t lost a home game with Sean Payton on the sideline since January 2011 and only two teams came within 18 points of them in the Superdome this year.
Take a second and savor that previous sentence. The New Orleans Saints have created a monster in the Superdome. They destroy any and all challengers.
It all starts, of course, with Brees, who was nearly perfect on Sunday. He was 24 of 31 for 381 yards and four scores. He did this in three quarters because the Saints called off the dogs for the final 15 minutes.
Brees also threw for more than 5,000 yards for the fourth time and third straight season. No one else in the history of football has done it more than once. When Brees is finished, the pile of 5,000-yard seasons - besides the championship - will be the thing that makes people say, “Oh my God, Brees was pretty spectacular.”
Brees in playoff games and must-win situations in the Superdome has always delivered. As someone who watched his wife’s team, the Miami Dolphins, gag away a playoff spot at home against the then-7-8 New York Jets, I can tell you having your favorite team’s quarterback deliver in the biggest moments is something special.
While the offense was dropping 42 points on Tampa and basically relaxing in the fourth quarter, Rob Ryan’s defense was holding the Bucs to 17 points and most of you are probably thinking the defense was only average yesterday.
Oh how far we’ve come since August, my friends. Tampa caught the Saints with a flea-flicker so give them credit for executing a great trick play. The other team gets paid, too.
Tampa did move the ball at times, as rookie Mike Glennon had time to find open guys in the first half. While the initial reaction is to pin the secondary struggles on the loss of Kenny Vaccaro, I believe the Saints struggled for a bit because their pass rush was only average.
No doubt the loss of Jabari Greer and Vaccaro hurts, but the Saints defensive success is based on Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and crew hitting quarterbacks often. If the Saints are going to win a road playoff game, those guys need to dominate. The good news is they showed in Carolina they are more than capable of doing it in a hostile environment.
While some fans are calling the 2013 season a disappointment because the Saints were at one point 9-2 and in complete control of winning a division title and getting a home game, you won’t hear such complaining from me.
The Saints are going to the playoffs for the fifth time in seven years with Payton on the sideline. Under Payton, the Saints have won 10 games five times -- before he arrived in 2006 the Saints had won 10 games five times in the ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE TEAM.
Here is how I judge if the Saints had a successful year: Did they make the playoffs and did they win all their home playoff games? The Saints are going to the postseason, but won’t have a chance to win any home games in the postseason.
Take a moment and realize 2013 was pretty special because the Saints were perfect on Poydras Street and when 2014 arrives, we’ll have more football.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.