NEW ORLEANS — The most chaotic New Orleans Saints season in their history ends with complete pandemonium, and with our Saints dreams seemingly so close and yet ending so far away. In the weirdest Saints season of my entire life of course a 30-20 win over the hated Atlanta Falcons to close it out feels hollow.
The final Saints Sunday of the 2021 season really felt like their entire season squeezed into 3 plus hours. The Saints started spectacularly, and for a moment their 5th straight playoff appearance looked assured as the Saints led the Atlanta Falcons 24-6 at the half and the Los Angeles Rams led the San Francisco 49ers 17-3. I really enjoyed that 5-minute window of time.
It of course wouldn't be a 2021 Saints game without a massive injury, this time Taysom Hill left the game with a Lisfranc injury as he was in the middle of what would have definitely been his finest start as an NFL quarterback. Before his injury, Taysom completed 7 of 9 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He looked confident and accurate throwing and was going to carve up an atrocious Falcon defense. In the biggest start of his career, Taysom was delivering. Like so much of the Saints 2021 season it just felt cruel and unfair it ended with him hurt.
The Saints were not about to let the Atlanta Falcons be the reason they didn't make the postseason. The Saints smashed Atlanta from the opening kickoff by scoring a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time all year. The Saints turned a semi-competitive game right before halftime into a blowout by forcing two Falcon turnovers and turning them into 10 points. A 14-6 game was suddenly 24-6 and Saints fans everywhere could turn our attention to the Rams-49ers game and hope the Rams could avoid a complete collapse after having a 17-0 lead.
The Rams were incapable of delivering Saints fans anything but heartache, even when a Rams victory would benefit them as much as the Saints. And of course, the Rams lose and back into a division title anyway because the Arizona Cardinals are in a complete tailspin. The Rams get every break, the lucky bastards.
The Rams are the worst and I hate them so much. The only consolation is I know the Rams, like the Saints, aren't going to the Super Bowl this year. Matthew Stafford will, like he did Sunday against the 49ers, crumble against good teams in the playoffs. Watching Stafford's soon to be 4 turnover playoff game loss will give me so much joy. You have no idea the depths to which my petty can go.
Let's not let the Rams epic collapse overshadow the Saints going to Atlanta and absolutely giving the Falcons the business because crushing the Falcons is always the best sort of fun. The Saints ran for 195 yards, had the ball for 39 minutes, sacked Matt Ryan 3 times, forced 3 turnovers, and there wasn't a single second during the game where it felt like the Saints were going to do anything other than win. Even when Taysom Hill got injured, I felt horrible for him, but I never thought, “Oh this will give Atlanta a chance.” What I did think was, “The Saints making the postseason and no one knowing who their starting quarterback would be for the playoff game would truly be the most 2021 New Orleans Saints thing of all the things.”
Alas, it wasn't to be.
The Saints defense wrapped up the season playing exactly like it did the previous 4 weeks and for most of 2021; dominating its opposition. The Saints finished the season 4-1 and allowed 9, 0, 20*, 10, and 20 points. The *20 points the defense allowed against Miami was really 10 because it truly was an NFL sanctioned forfeit because of the number of offensive players missing because of COVID.
The Saints defense will have everyone back in 2022 if they can figure out how to keep Kwon Alexander, Marcus Williams, and cross their fingers defensive coordinator Dennis Allen doesn't get a head coaching job. This defense is good enough to win a Super Bowl. It was very good all year, and when Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, and Cam Jordan were all playing on the defensive line it was the best defense in the NFL. If you disagree go ask Tom Brady.
Part of me hates that the Saints missed the playoffs, but a little part of me is glad I didn't have to watch the Saints play a postseason game starting their third-string quarterback. I saw how the Saints looked when Trevor Siemian started games, and it was..painful.
The 2021 Saints shouldn't have been anywhere near the playoffs. They didn't have a quarterback throw for 1200 yards, or a receiver or running back have 900 yards receiving or rushing, and they still won 9 games. Sean Payton did the best coaching job of his entire career. He should be proud of how the Saints fought all season and he was.
“The other game didn't go the way we wanted but I'm proud of this group. They fought hard. They fought hard all season,” Payton said.
The 2021 Saints season ended like it started with no sure answer to who will be the long-term successor to Drew Brees at quarterback but it did make one thing crystal; the organizational culture just proved it can withstand anything.
All I'll say about the Sean Payton leaving to Chicago or Las Vegas rumors is this; 2021 proved that Sean Payton was equally or maybe more responsible for the team's success than Drew Brees and another NFL team can pry him from our cold dead hands.
The Saints 2021 season had no right to be anything other than a disaster, teams don't start 4 quarterbacks, set an NFL record with 60 different starters, and do anything other than draft in the top 5. Yet their postseason hopes survived into an overtime game in Week 18.
The Saints went through the football season from hell and nearly survived to grab a playoff spot. It was interesting and fun in its own way and let's hope to never ever experience this type of Saints season again.
Ralph Malbrough is a contributing writer and Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @SaintsForecast or download the Saints Happy Hour Podcast.