Tuesday, February 5, 2019

2018 New Orleans Saints: A Year In Review

The 52nd season in New Orleans Saints franchise history came to a heartbreaking conclusion on January 20, 2019, after an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship. This defeat will haunt the Saints and their fans for years due in part to a crucial missed call in the last two minutes of regulation. On 3rd down and 10 inside the red zone, Saints quarterback Drew Brees dropped back, and tried to connect with wide receiver Tommylee Lewis sprinting down the sideline. 

Lewis would have no shot at catching the ball as Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman crushed him before the ball even got there. It looked like pass interference and at the very least targeting due to the helmet-to-helmet contact, but no flag was thrown. Robey-Coleman even admitted after the game that he got there early and that it was pass interference.

Instead of a new set of downs, it was 4th down and kicker Wil Lutz would make the go-ahead field goal to put the Saints up 23-20. This lead would not last long as the Rams would drive down the field and tie the game with a field goal of their own with less than 20 seconds remaining.

The Saints would get the ball to start overtime, but on the fourth play of the drive Drew Brees was intercepted. It would take the Rams just five plays before kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a 57-yard attempt to send the Rams to their first Super Bowl since 2001.

This loss, as bitter and unfair as it is, should not take away from the incredible season that the Saints had. They finished the regular season 13-3 with a home loss to ‘FitzMagic’ and Tampa Bay in Week 1, a road loss to Dallas in Week 13 that snapped their 10-game winning streak, and a home loss to Carolina with all of their backups playing in Week 17.

The 13-3 mark represents the 12th time that the Saints have won double-digit games and ties the 2011 and 2009 squads for the best record in franchise history. In addition, the Saints won their fifth NFC South division title, making it the first time in team history that the Saints had won back-to-back division titles. In the postseason, the Saints clinched their third ever first-round bye (second time as the No. 1 overall seed) and won the third divisional round playoff game in team history.

Individually, the expected Saints players led the team in their respective statistical categories. Drew Brees finished his 2018 campaign with 3,992 passing yards, 32 touchdowns (6th best in the NFL), and 364 completions. On the ground, second-year man Alvin Kamara rushed for 883 yards, and 14 touchdowns (2nd best in the NFL).

Kamara also posted 709 receiving yards (4th in the NFL among running backs) and had four receiving touchdowns as well. Pacing the receiving corps was the always reliable Michael Thomas, who led all NFL wideouts with 125 receptions for 1,405 yards (6th best in the NFL), and nine touchdowns (tied for 10th in the NFL).

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Demario Davis led all Saints defenders with 110 total tackles (74 solo, 36 assisted) and five sacks. In the secondary, defensive backs Marcus Williams, Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore, and Chris Banjo all led the team with two interceptions each.

Lattimore also topped the team with four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. As a unit, the Saints defense was second in rushing yards allowed per game, giving up only 80.2 yards to opponents on the ground.

In the kicking game, the 24-year old Wil Lutz was spectacular. He converted 28 of his 30 kick attempts (93% and 8th best in the NFL), and missed only one extra point as he made 52 of his 53 attempts (98%).

Coming one win shy of the Super Bowl is a tough pill to swallow, especially when the action (or in this case inaction) of the referees plays a substantial role. However, this loss cannot take away from the fact that the Saints are in a prime position to still keep contending. Even in the waning years of Drew Brees’s legendary career, the Saints still look to be one of the most formidable teams in the NFL for years to come.