NEW ORLEANS — The 2020 NFL season is coronavirus chaos. The chaos eventually will hit every team, and in the Saints case, it's the second time in 4 weeks they've had mayhem dropped on them late in the week before a game.
Sean Payton after the New Orleans Saints 27-24 win over the Carolina Panthers had no illusions that coronavirus problems will get you any sympathy from the NFL or anyone.
“One thing we know is the games are going to be played. There's a couple other teams dealing with pretty extreme adversity. No one else outside your building really cares. I'm proud of how our guys focused and found a way to get the win.”
Teams will either survive it or get left behind. The NFL doesn't care because there's money to be made and these games are getting played whether the Saints have Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at receiver or they have to suit up one of the 3,000 fans in the Superdome.
The Saints somehow are 4-2 and did it with an undrafted rookie receiver from the University of Tennessee, Marquez Callaway, leading the way with 8 catches. Drew Brees is ridiculous and him going 29-36 for 287 yards without his top 2 receivers should get him into Canton TONIGHT. The five-year waiting period is an insult to his greatness.
The Saints offense, except for one play where Brees got sacked and fumbled, was flawless. They did this even AFTER losing starting left tackle Terron Armstead. The Saints were down 3 starters and didn't punt? I don't care if they were playing a team of cardboard cutouts, that's incredible.
Sean Payton said the Saints had to work late Thursday night after learning Emmanuel Sanders had the coronavirus and wouldn't be available. “Just trying to get guys in positions they are comfortable with.”
After the Saints gained 415 yards and went 12 of 14 on 3rd down, I'd say the Saints were as comfortable as me in my pajamas on my sofa watching the game Sunday. Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the insanity of reworking an entire game plan on Thursday and Drew Brees just takes it all in and plays like vintage Drew Brees? Even by football's ridiculous work 80 hours-a-week standard that's nutty.
Drew Brees knows what the Saints have done the first 6 weeks is pretty special.
'Each week it's finding a different way to win. Each week it's finding different guys that are having to step up and contribute in ways maybe they haven't in the past.”
Finding a way seems to be a theme for the Saints in 2020. The Saints have won 3 straight games by a combined 12 points. With a little less luck they could be 2-4 and Drew Brees' final season could be on the brink of collapse. Except it isn't.
A perfect drive right before the half that Sean Payton called, “A game winning drive that we just didn't know it at the time.” and Alvin Kamara converting a third and 14 are the kinds of plays 4-2 teams make and 2-4 teams shake their heads about being failing at.
While the offense was impeccable, the defense seemed as lost as ever. Or were they?
The defense wasn't good but can I offer a reason; Teddy Bridgewater was on fire. The Saints defense had a chance to take complete control of the game up 14-3 and Bridgewater hit D.J. Moore for a 74-yard bomb to make the score 14-10 and the Saints chance to have an easy Sunday was gone as quickly as it appeared. Bridgewater only missed on 5 throws, got rid of the ball extremely quickly, and made plays with his feet when pressured. Carolina might be rebuilding their defense from the ground up, but their offense led by Bridgewater and ex-LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady is well run and has very good receivers. Brady will be a head coach somewhere in 2021. Believe that.
In the 2020 NFL there are like 4 very good teams, 8 very bad teams, and 20 teams that play one score games every week. The Saints are in that group of 20 teams. They are a step down from the elite team we were used to watching in 2018-19, but there's 10 weeks left in the 2020 regular season or maybe more if the coronavirus gets hold of some teams? In the season of the 'rona we can never be too sure. My point is no team is going to escape this insanity. During a normal NFL season the picture of who's a contender comes into focus around Thanksgiving or later, but 2020 is not normal in any sense of the word. We know nothing about who's going to the Super Bowl. Nothing.
The Saints played a football game in the Superdome in front of 3,000 people and it wasn't even craziest thing about Sunday's game. Carolina coming about a foot short on a 65-yard field goal was the winner in 'craziest Saints game moment' Sunday.
Saints football is a lot like pandemic life in 2020; it's about surviving the crazy.
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.