Brian Allee-Walsh

With Rams loss a distant memory, a new game emerges as Saints’ biggest battle

I was wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Stupidly wrong. Wrong in every way.

In early September, I predicted the road game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2 would be the biggest game on the New Orleans Saints 2019 schedule. Additionally, the victor would emerge as the team to beat in the race for NFC homefield advantage and a potential berth in Super Bowl LIV.

Even though the Saints lost the game and quarterback Drew Brees to a thumb injury on his throwing hand that required surgery, it appears the Rams were nothing more than a herd of baa-d sheep dressed in wolves’ clothing.

And Brees or no Brees, the Saints look to be the real deal.

Well, all prognosticators worth their weight in Black and Gold are entitled to a prognostication mulligan now and then, and I’m taking mine now.

Call it 2019 CRYSTAL BALL 2.0.

I stand by my original claim made in the Labor Day print editions of the Sun Herald that the Saints will finish 12-4, win the NFC South for a third consecutive season and claim NFC home-field advantage. That was based on the Saints beating the Rams in Week 2.

I now amend that prediction. Hey, stuff happens.

The most important game on their schedule now features the undefeated San Francisco 49ers in Week 14 (Dec. 8) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

That became abundantly clear after the suddenly relevant ‘Niners scored a resounding 20-7 victory Sunday in LA-LA Land, humbling the Rams’ once-vaunted offense, its coaching guru and play-caller (Sean McVay) and $33.5 million-per-year quarterback Jared Goff.

The ‘Niners limited Goff to a career-low 78 passing yards, the Rams to 157 total yards and pitched a defensive shutout when it came to third- and fourth-down conversions (0-for-13).

After starting out 3-0, three consecutive losses have plummeted the defending NFC champion-Rams into third place in the uber-competitive NFC West, behind the 49ers (5-0) and Seattle Seahawks (5-1) and slightly ahead of the Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1).

Earlier in the day Sunday, across the country in Jacksonville, Florida, the Saints were taking care of business under backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a gritty defense with a workmanlike 13-6 victory against the Jaguars.

Chants of “TED-DY ... TED-DY ... TED-DY’‘ from happy Who Dats inside TIAA Bank Field could be heard on TV after his tie-breaking 4-yard touchdown toss to tight end Jared Cook with 11:49 remaining gave the Saints a 13-6 lead.

It wasn’t Bridgewater’s Sunday best but it didn’t have to be, not with the Saints defense imposing its strong will on mustachioed Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II and running back Leonard Fournette.

So much for Minshew Mania.

Now it’s on to the Windy City and a Sunday date with the 3-2 Chicago Bears at Soldier Field (3:25 p.m., Fox). The Bears opened at -3 1/2 with a 39 over/under. The game-day forecast calls for temperatures in the low 60s with showers and 12-to-15-mph winds.

In what has become a year of the NFL backup quarterback, the game will feature a pair of notable subs in Fox Network’s marquee late afternoon time slot. Bridgewater (now 4-0 in Brees’ absence) will square off against former Saints quarterback Chase Daniel, who’s 0-1 after replacing injured starter Mitch Trubisky during the first possession of their 16-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4.

Like Bridgewater, Daniel, too, served as Brees’ understudy during his two stints in New Orleans. Daniel is being paid $4 million this season; Bridgewater $7.25 million as the NFL’s highest paid backup QB.

In my original 2019 prediction, I had Trubisky and the Bears beating Brees and the Saints. The circumstances have changed. I hope I’m wrong. I’ve been wrong before.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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