NFL Week 3 recap: Struggling Saints, stumbling refs

Rob Woodfork,

WASHINGTON – I promise I won’t go through the “I told ya so” routine every week. Really I do.

But surely you can indulge me one more time, given how I was poo-pooed and all but ridiculed for thinking the Bountygate sanctions would tank the New Orleans Saints’ 2012 season.

Admittedly, I thought New Orleans would start slow, but not this slow. The Saints are now 0-3, and the teams they’ve lost to (the Redskins, Panthers and Chiefs) are winless in the games they’ve played against teams other than New Orleans. Not good.

Before I go on, let me be clear: I never wished any of this on them, nor do I revel in their current struggles. Believe it or not, I actually like the Saints. Despite his Dallas ties, I like what suspended coach Sean Payton brings to the table. I’ve had Drew Brees ahead of Peyton Manning in the elite QB power rankings (if such a thing exists) for about three years now. Any team that’s overcome the level of adversity New Orleans has deserves to be an “America’s Team” of sorts.

However, the punishment levied against the Saints this offseason – specifically the year-long suspension of Payton – were crippling.

I’m just baffled as to why so few NFL experts and assorted talking heads didn’t even see this as a possibility. As I explained before the season, the two most important positions on any NFL team are the head coach and the quarterback. It’s exceedingly difficult to win with only one, and near impossible to win without both.

Yes, they still have Brees under center. Yes, he’s got a ton of weapons to throw to as well. I get why people would think he could carry the team without the coach around, but the offensive line is porous and they have an awful defense. I’m not sure this was a Super Bowl-caliber team even with Payton on the sideline, but at least they’d be a cinch playoff contender with their leader in the fold.

Sean Payton may not play a single down for New Orleans, but he’s the great equalizer. Teams that win in the NFL consistently aren’t necessarily the most talented teams. They’re the ones that are better prepared, better organized and the sharpest on game day. That’s why Mike Tomlin can win in Pittsburgh without much of an offensive line. It’s why the Patriots were in the Super Bowl last year despite one of the more statistically inept defenses. Take those coaches away, and what do you think happens?

Interim-interim coach Aaron Cromer may or may not be a good coach. But he’s the third-string head coach there for a reason. I suspect things will improve once interim coach Joe Vitt returns next month, and Cromer can go back to concentrating on his usual gig coaching the offensive line (I’m sure it’s no coincidence his unit is struggling right now).

In the meantime, brace yourselves for a very rough first half of the season, New Orleans.

OK, let’s bring the mood up with the Week 3 recap (unless, of course, your team lost):

Giants 7
Panthers 36

I knew this game was happening Thursday night. New York knew this game was happening Thursday night. Apparently, Carolina didn’t get the memo.

Bengals 38
Redskins 31

Further proof the ‘Skins just can’t get it right: If you could put this year’s defense with last year’s offense, the team never has to trade to get Robert Griffin III … they’re 2-14 on their own. Conversely, if you could put last year’s defense with this year’s offense, Washington would be a cinch to win the NFC East. Now you see why this is such a frustrated fan base.

Chiefs 27
Saints 24 (OT)

Congrats to Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel for getting his first win of the year. Just one piece of advice, though, Romeo: A man of your size probably shouldn’t make food analogies after the game. We big guys have enough to worry about.

Niners 13
Vikings 24

After another awful week for the replacement officials, the NFL dodged a bullet in Minnesota when yet another massive brain fart on the part of the replacement refs failed to actually affect the outcome of a game. (Too bad the same can’t be said in Green Bay.)

Bills 24
Browns 14

After losing C.J. Spiller to injury, Buffalo better hope Fred Jackson is ready to go for Week 4. Unless O.J. Simpson got a pardon I don’t know about, they’re running out of quality running backs.

Rams 6
Bears 23

When asked what he thought of Chicago’s Jay Cutler after this game, Rams corner Cortland Finnegan replied, “Not much. Not much. I think he had 190 yards passing, something like that. And no touchdowns. Typical him.”

Yet he outplayed your quarterback and beat you handily. Know your role, Cortland. Know your role.

Lions 41
Titans 44 (OT)

Tennessee needed touchdowns from all three phases of the game (offense, defense, special teams) and a sequel to the Music City Miracle to pull this one out. And, wouldn’t you know, this time the “Miracle” was actually a lateral.

Jaguars 22
Colts 17

Andrew Luck didn’t just inherit the starting QB job from Peyton Manning. He also got the same lousy Indy defense.

Bucs 10
Cowboys 16

Tampa coach Greg Schiano said after the game, “We need to stop being known for the kneel-down play. We need to be known for winning football games.” Well, Greg … if your Bucs blow people off the line before the opposition can kneel down and run out the clock, they might not – ya know – be in a position to kneel down and run out the clock.

But by all means … wait until after you play the Redskins to learn this lesson.

Jets 23
Dolphins 20 (OT)

Good thing for the Jets they won this game. Without All-World corner Darrelle Revis for the rest of the year, they’ll need it.

Eagles 6
Cardinals 27

Don’t look now, but Arizona is 3-0 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC West. If Kevin Kolb keeps playing like this, the Cards may have to send another draft pick to Philly. Speaking of Philly, here’s a reminder to our friends up I-95: You can’t play Cleveland every week. If you lead the league in turnovers, this is what typically happens.

Falcons 27
Chargers 3

I know I picked Atlanta to go to the Super Bowl, but even I didn’t know their defense was this good. If they can keep this up, the Falcons will be doing the Dirty Bird in February like it’s 1999.

Texans 31
Broncos 25

Matt Schaub went into Peyton Manning’s home stadium and totally outplayed him. This didn’t happen when Peyton was in Indy, but better late than never, right, Houston?

Steelers 31
Raiders 34

If there are any survivor pools that haven’t already been decided after this one, your group should investigate the football equivalent of insider trading.

Patriots 30
Ravens 31

If I tragically lost my brother in the wee hours of the morning, I wouldn’t be at work that day. Most people wouldn’t. That makes it all the more impressive that Torrey Smith not only showed up to play, but that he showed up in a big way (127 yards and two Tds).

Packers 12
Seahawks 14

This game should have Aaron Rodgers checking into whether Discount Double Check includes life insurance. After sacking the reigning MVP eight times, there’s no more doubting this Seattle defense.

As for the controversial ending … if this doesn’t end the referee lockout, I shudder to think what will.

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