NEW ORLEANS — The first real taste of life without Drew Brees was worse than a flat Barq's root beer.
Some of you might be muttering at your computer or phone screens, "Ralph, the Saints experienced life without Drew Brees in 2019 and 2020 and went 8-1."
It was great the Saints won games without Drew in 2019 and 2020, but Sunday in Charlotte was the first time the Saints faced extreme in-game adversity without Drew Brees under center.
Watching it was like drinking a hurricane without rum: Nasty and kind of pointless.
It was the first time I've ever seen a Sean Payton offense look completely helpless. Carolina blitzed the Saints offense into oblivion. At one point to close the first half the Panthers ran the same blitz for 3 consecutive plays.
Their defensive coordinator was acting like a 10-year-old kid playing Madden on rookie level and could just run the same play over and over again.
The only way Carolina could have been more disrespectful to the Saints was if they held up a bright neon sign that said "LOLZ, Here Comes the Blitz." We are lucky Jameis Winston didn't leave the game on a stretcher.
You might think this column will turn into me pining for Drew Brees and trashing Winston, but it's not about that.
It's just about Sunday being a bucket of cold water being dumped on our heads that the Saints no longer have one of the 4 or 5 best quarterbacks in football. Drew Brees was still fantastic even though he could only throw the ball 5 yards at a time.
We became so focused on what he couldn't do, we forgot about all the things he was still doing at an elite level.
Drew ran everything on offense and wouldn't have allowed those offensive line blocking disasters to happen, but there are only maybe 5 quarterbacks in the NFL who could have mitigated that avalanche the Saints faced in Carolina.
Jameis isn't that guy, and the reality is the Saints are unlikely to find a guy of Brees' level anytime soon.
The Saints offense doesn't have Drew Brees to save them when they have a complete failure of their offensive line.
Drew delivered us a level of excellence we knew we were unlikely to see this year, but he also delivered a floor of competence that's gone as well.
All off-season' life without Drew' was this hypothetical scenario we had never experienced in a negative way. Well, we got it Sunday, and if it was a movie — I'd give it ZERO STARS and not recommend it.
Saints Fan Mood and Meditation Music: Reboot the Mission -- The Wallflowers
Have I used this song before? I need an excel doc or something to track this part of the column since I've been doing it for 4 years now.
The Saints in Carolina was like a brand new laptop computer giving us the blue screen of death. There might be something catastrophically wrong but there might not be anything wrong at all. All we can do is reboot and hope for the best.
Last Week 2-3 Season: 5-5
New England (-3) vs New Orleans: Early in the week I picked New England to win on my podcast, but as the week has gone along, I've strongly considered changing my mind.
The Saints got excellent injury news on Wednesday and could get key players back.
Also, the New York Jets ran for 152 yards and averaged 5 yards a carry, that's something the Saints can do if they can get the communication fixed on their offensive line.
The Patriots don't have a receiver with over 100 combined receiving yards in 2 games, and they are one of few teams whose receiving corps rivals the Saints in its lack of talent.
If the Saints get Marshon Lattimore and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson back, I expect the Saints to make life miserable for New England's rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
The Patriots defense is only allowing 11.5 points-a-game, and I expect coach mumble hoodie to break out the most exotic and difficult blitzes Saints center Cesar Ruiz has ever seen.
Sean Payton mentioned this week the Patriots are 108-7 at Gillette Stadium when they win the turnover battle. The Saints' game plan will be to try to run the ball, avoid turnovers at all costs, and win an ugly mud-wrestling match late with a couple of plays.
Until Jameis thrives when times are hard, I'm just not going to trust him to do so.
Pittsburgh (-3.5) vs Cincinnati: Congress should pass a constitutional amendment forcing the Bengals to trade Joe Burrow to a team with an actual NFL offense before he's ruined.
New York Giants (-3) vs Atlanta: The Falcons are so terrible. It's delightful.
Las Vegas (-3.5) vs Miami: Jon Gruden is a really good offensive mind, can you imagine how good the Raiders would be if he could draft well?
Arizona (-7.5) at Jacksonville: Urban Myer couldn't possibly look more miserable. He might not last the season.
Ralph Malbrough is a contributing writer and Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @SaintsForecast or download the Saints Happy Hour Podcast.