A mid-term letter grade of B is not befitting of the New Orleans Saints at the halfway point of the 2019 regular season.
It doesn’t honestly reflect their stellar 7-1 record or the extenuating circumstances facing them after their potentially season-altering 27-9 loss in Week 2 against the Rams in LA-LA Land.
Losing Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback Drew Brees to a right thumb injury on his throwing hand might have crushed lesser teams. But not the Saints, whose 53-man roster features tried-and-true backup QB Teddy Bridgewater, offensive stalwarts Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara and talent-rich defensive and special teams units.
And, of course, NFL Coach of the Year candidate Sean Payton, who has distinguished himself and perhaps done his best coaching in New Orleans over the past six games considering the circumstances.
After much waffling, I settled on a letter grade of A-minus, probably much to the chagrin of a highly-partisan Who Dat Nation fan base that collectively views life through Black-and-Gold-colored glasses.
Without further adieu, my Turning Point to the Saints’ first eight games:
As devastating as it appeared to be at the time, Brees’ thumb injury proved to be a blessing in disguise and the impetus for the dramatic turn-around, beginning with the pivotal 33-27 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3 at rainy CenturyLink Field.
Three important elements came into play:
One, because of pre-arranged travel plans, the Saints flew from Los Angeles to Seattle after the Rams game and conducted practice at the University of Washington in preparation for the Seahawks. It proved to be a great bonding experience for a team and organization still dealing with the shock of Brees’ injury and yet another officiating gaffe.
Remember? A quick whistle against the Rams negated a potential momentum-changing 87-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan with the score tied at 3 early in the second quarter.
The week away from the Big Easy came at a perfect time and unwittingly developed into a mini in-season training camp.
Two, as Brees remained behind in Los Angeles to undergo thumb surgery, the Saints went about their business in the Seattle area. One night, Bridgewater, the newly-ordained starter, sprung for dinner and vowed to his offensive teammates to give his all in Brees’ absence. Bridgewater reminded everyone seated at the table that he could not be No. 9, that he could only be No. 5. All for one and one for all.
Three, several minutes into the Seahawks game and before Bridgewater ever stepped on the sloppy field, Saints undrafted rookie free agent Deonte Harris stunned the Seahawks and their “12th Man’‘ sellout crowd by returning a punt 53 yards for a touchdown. The defense got in the act midway through the second quarter as safety Vonn Bell contributed a 33-yard scoop-and-score for a 13-7 lead.
And the Saints haven’t looked back.
Offensive MVP: WR Michael Thomas.
Defensive MVP: CB Marshon Lattimore.
Special Teams: P Thomas Morstead.
Top Assistant Coach: Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen.
Best Unit: Defense.
Best Free-Agent Signing: Bridgewater, RB Latavius Murray (tie).
Best Kick: Wil Lutz’ game-winning 58-yarder as time expired to beat Houston 30-28 in Week 1
Best Swiss Army Knife: Taysom Hill.