Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
Sometimes football analysis is really simple. No team, especially the 2012 New Orleans Saints, are beating the best team in the NFL after giving up two interception returns for touchdowns.
Sunday’s game changed drastically on three plays.
The Saints defense had just put an exclamation point on their best half of football in 2012 with a Patrick Robinson interception when the roof fell in.
Drew Brees then tried to hit Devery Henderson deep, and if Henderson manages to get a second foot in bounds on a great catch, the Saints are deep in 49ers territory late in the first half up 14-7 and looking to put a rookie quarterback in a deep second half hole. On the next play Drew Brees was intercepted by Ahmad Brooks, who scored and tied the game at 14.
When good football teams play it’s usually just a handful of plays that decide the outcome. Drew Brees’ bad throw right before half was one of those mental mistakes great defenses sometimes get quarterbacks to make. His interception on the Saints first play of the second half was more a case of a throw where he put Marques Colston in too tough a spot.
*Let’s take a moment to appreciate Colston becoming the Saints all time touchdown leader and being one tough S.O.B.
I thought the Saints were ready to play and had a great game plan. They stayed patient with the running game early and kept the San Francisco defensive line off balance. The 49ers clearly respected the play action while the Saints were within one score. The Saints did this playing a guy they signed on Monday at right tackle for most of the day.
The 49ers defensive line didn’t take over the football game until midway through the fourth quarter when the Saints were down 10 and forced to throw every play to catch up. Throwing 40 plus times against that defense is a recipe for getting your quarterback killed. The 49ers philosophy is to back you into a corner and then bludgeon you to death with a two-by-four. It is neither pretty, subtle, nor disguised. Once you are in the corner it’s only a matter of time before everything fades to black. Give credit to San Francisco for putting the Saints in the exact position they wanted and then crushing them.
As far as the offensive line goes, the Saints need Zach Strief back healthy, because if Will Robinson starts in Atlanta on Thursday I’m not sure the line can hold up in a hostile environment. If the Saints are forced to play Will Robinson it will affect the passing game as well because Dave Thomas replaces Jimmy Graham a great deal to block, which makes the offense significantly less explosive.
If you want to second guess playcalling or blame the referees go ahead, but in my opinion the Saints just got beat by a better team. The 49ers are the deepest, most physical team in the NFL and if they get B+ quarterbacking in playoff games they are going to win the Super Bowl. The moral of the story is don’t start 0-4 kids, it is an enormous hole to climb out of.
So with five weeks left where are the Saints?
The good news is every team directly in front of them lost and they are still only one game out of the final playoff spot. I also think the defense played it’s best game of the year and is clearly on the up tick. They held the 49ers running game in check until the end of the game when San Francisco was running out the clock, created a decent pass rush for the fourth week in a row, and only allowed 17 points. If you want to argue they’ve turned the corner I’m willing to listen and not laugh at you.
Want some more good news? The teams directly in front of the Saints have incredibly tough games this week. Seattle goes to Chicago, Minnesota goes to Green Bay, and Tampa goes to Denver.
The bad news? The Saints 2012 season comes down to a Thursday night trip to Atlanta. New Orleans will face a Falcon team who can clinch the NFC South and make a huge statement on national television that they are the NFC’s best team. There’s no use denying the Saints better be 6-6 heading into December to have any shot at the post season. The Saints season lives or dies in about 85 hours against their most hated rival.
Like I said at the start of this column, sometimes football analysis is really simple.
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 http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbroughtwitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.