Peter Finney: The numbers don’t add up for New Orleans Saints

Posted by Peter Finney, The Times-Picayune November 09, 2008

Unless I’m mistaken, I think I hear the fat lady singing.

I think the opera is over.

I’ve just been handed an envelope with the magic number.

The number is 6.

That’s right, folks. It says here the 4-and-5 Saints must win 6 of their remaining 7 games to make the playoffs.

Obviously, I’m just guessing.

Is it impossible?

Of course not.

But it’s highly unlikely if you watched Sean Payton’s ballclub lose to the Atlanta Falcons 34-20 at the Georgia Dome.

Here’s the sobering thought. Last year the Falcons finished 4-12, last in the NFC South, and this year, with a new coach, Mike Smith, and a rookie quarterback, Matt Ryan, they were picked to wind up in the cellar again, behind the Saints, Bucs and Panthers.

I have no idea where the 6-3 Falcons will finish this year. But from what I saw Sunday the Falcons are no fluke. They’re a better football team than the Saints, and they’re playing like someone with a legitimate shot to win the division.

Why is this?

Here are three reasons.

Nine games into his first season, Ryan is doing things to suggest he’s a rookie no longer, making decisions and throwing the football in the right places.

At running back you have 237-pound Michael Turner, a longtime backup to LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, who spent Sunday moving the chains.

And, at defensive end, you have John Abraham, who could be seen Sunday running past Saints left tackle Jammal Brown and winding up at the feet, or in the face, of Drew Brees.

There’s more to the Falcons than these three, but they’re a good start. The Falcons have an aggressive secondary, some sticky-handed receivers and a third-year running back, Jerious Norwood, who turned a catch of a Ryan pass into a long jaunt that seemed to seal the Saints’ doom.

The Falcons carried the fight to the Saints, out-schemed them and were more physical when it counted. And here’s a fact you have to face: The Saints are too thin in some areas to overcome the loss, early in the season and at the moment, of some key players.

Payton got right to the bottom line when he said: “We got beat in every area.”

The funny thing was, as much as the Falcons dominated the trenches, the Saints were knocking at the door in the fourth quarter, with a chance to make it 27-20, when former LSU Tiger Chevis Jackson intercepted a Brees pass and took it back 95 yards.

About the only encouraging thing you could say, though the Falcons were in control from the opening whistle, they did not dominate to the degree the Panthers did in last month’s 30-7 win.

Under little pressure, Ryan was a workmanlike 16-for-23 for 248 yards while an arm-weary Brees was on the run for many of his 58 passes, hitting 31 for 422 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

For the diehard Who Dats, here’s the good news. The Saints will be seeing the Bucs, Falcons and Panthers again this year. If you’re into magic numbers, you’d have to include these three in the six the Saints would have to win to pull off some kind of miracle.

Do I believe in miracles?


But I also believe in the fat lady.

And I’m afraid she ain’t singing, “When The Saints …”

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