Tom Planchet / WWL-TV.com
OPINION:NEW ORLEANS The 2012 edition of the New Orleans Saints appears that it could be the worst in the 'Sean Payton' era. That's not saying much, as he has set a high standard and anything under .500 would have been in contention for being the worst.
What is pretty clear is that this team misses its leader. Perhaps there is no better example than having to use two timeouts consecutively without running a play in the Kansas City game. Things looked much better last week, but the competition was better and so is the rest of the schedule with two games against unbeaten Atlanta and one each against San Francisco, the Giants and Eagles. The Saints may finally have their act together, but starting out 0-4 in the NFL is like racing Usain Bolt and giving HIM a head start.
Some Saints fans have blinders on and get angry when you point out the team isn't very good this year, others are calling them the 'Old Saints.' Neither is correct.
I say, they deserve a bye, a mulligan, a do-over...whatever you want to call it. And, that doesn't mean giving up on the season, as I'm sure the team won't.
The Saints have built up enough goodwill; given the fan base enough excitement over the past six years that they just deserve a pass if the season doesn't right itself. What team could suddenly lose its leader just weeks before the draft, shortly before mini-camps and do well?
Unlike other coach change situations, it isn't like the Saints wanted to replace Payton. That actually makes it harder to find a head coach. Who will take over a team for one season? Remember also that the Saints didn't even select a game day head coach until just weeks before the season. How in the world was Aaron Kromer supposed to get prepared for the quick, game-day decisions? How was he supposed to know how to handle petty locker room issues, or demoting starters.
All of those things take a deft hand. Payton has one. His exodus was so swift that it was unlikely he had time to leave notes. His preparation is said to be fastidious. No 'temp' could fill in that quickly. It's sort of like the replacement refs filling in without the years of experience it takes to do that job. Kromer's heart is in the right place and he's likely very good at what he normally does. So is the waiter at Commander's Palace, but he's unlikely to make the leap directly to executive chef there on a moment's notice.
The de-facto leader, Drew Brees, wasn't even signed until just before camp, keeping him and his considerable calming influence away from the situation.
There are silly fans who think the NFL didn't want the Saints to host a Super Bowl and that's why the punishments came down. That's ridiculous. I do think the NFL didn't really want the Saints in the Super Bowl ONCE they handed the suspensions down. They didn't want the Saints to be able to thumb their noses at commish Goodell and the league. Before hand, they couldn't have cared less. The Saints 2009 title was the feel good story of recent NFL memory. Hosting a Super Bowl in New Orleans would have been great theater.
With apologies to the Giants and Patriots even the 49ers the Saints were likely the best team in the NFL last year. They didn't all of a sudden become talent-less. They were handed a harsh and swift punishment and were not prepared to handle it. It would be like Jimmie Johnson being suspended in the middle of the NASCAR season and having someone from the pit crew jump into the driver's seat. There would have likely been less drop off if this had happened in Cleveland because there was not very far to fall.
The Saints had a chance this season, but it had to be with a fast start, no controversy, few bumps in the road. The bumps came swiftly and the temporary people in charge had difficulty responding.
I truly believe if Sean Payton were here we'd be looking at worst at a 2-2 team probably better. He's not and we aren't. But I don't think this team is on a downward spiral for future years, though it would be naive to think they'll jump right back into Super Bowl contention next year.
The team is staggered. They aren't likely to be very good this year. But, as long as the effort is there, they should get a pass from fans.