NFL Week 5 Wrap: The Saints are marching out

WASHINGTON — It’s over in New Orleans.

Yes, it’s a bummer. Long suffering Saints fans surely don’t want their day in the sun to end after spending so many Sundays filing out of the Superdome with bags on their heads. But it’s become glaringly obvious the sweet juices of the Sean Payton/Drew Brees Era have been squeezed all the way out.

This season is far from the start of this process. Ever since 2012 — when Payton served a yearlong suspension for his role in Bountygate — the Saints have been trending downward (save for a brief reprieve in 2013 that included their first-ever road playoff win). One of the greatest feel-good stories in sports history that boasted perhaps the most prolific offense of our time has slowed to a unit that scores a paltry 20.6 points per game on a one-win, last place afterthought.

The reasons are many. Whether it’s injury, age, or both, Brees isn’t the same guy. Even before a shoulder injury kept the 38-year-old QB out of the lineup in Week 3 — his first missed game as a Saint — his deep balls looked like wounded ducks and his throws generally lacked zip. Brees has taken an unholy beating this year, so even if he had some elite weapons at his disposal, he’d likely lack the time to find them.

Receivers Willie Snead and Brandon Cooks have put up numbers here and there (a lot of it in garbage time) but they have yet to prove they’re anything more than just fast guys. Longtime possession receiver Marques Colston — one of the great value picks as a 7th rounder in 2006 — is nursing a shoulder injury that could keep him out of the lineup for quite some time.

Even during the glory years, the Saints didn’t really run the ball with any consistency. So I’ll save space and time by skipping any attempted analysis of that 29th-ranked mess.

The Saints defense has been a train wreck for over two years now. They can’t stop the run, the pass, or the reign. They currently rank dead last in total defense and surrender the second most points in the league. Safety Jairus Byrd can’t stay healthy since being their prized free agent signing in 2014 (only six games played since the start of last season) and the team parted ways with the oft-troubled pass rusher Junior Galette in August without finding an adequate replacement for his 22 sacks in two years. We’re still waiting on Rob Ryan show he doesn’t just look like his twin brother Rex, but can coach like him too.

It’s one thing for us observers to say this sort of thing, but it’s another when the team appears to be adversely affected the losing. Payton may already have a foot out the door and Brees has been so frustrated he’s now uncharacteristically barking at refs. Not to mention, Ryan’s relationship with his head coach is reminiscent of his old man’s shenanigans in Chicago.

Even the Saints front office has lost its touch. They haven’t drafted any impact players since Cameron Jordan in 2011, and the Jimmy Graham trade makes less and less sense every day (for both teams, ironically) considering the lack of playmakers in New Orleans.

I take no joy in this. I’m a sucker for a good worst-to-first tale, and we were all drawn into this one because of the time and the place. The Saints organization was a football wasteland for generations, and the Brees/Payton Era began on the heels of the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina and brought a joyous and welcomed distraction to a region badly in need of something positive to hold onto.

But a specific winning formula in the NFL rarely lasts beyond a decade. It took about 11 years for time to run out on Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid in Philly. Barring a deep playoff run, Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning might be coming to a close in New York after a dozen years. The fact that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still going strong in New England after 16 years is amazingly unprecedented.

New Orleans got to enjoy a decade of aesthetically pleasing football and were fortunate to get a long awaited championship out of it. Cry not for what’s become of the Saints. Let’s celebrate what they once were as they go marching out of the Crescent City, one by one.

Now march back to the NFL Week 5 Recap.

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