If you're one of the many Saints fans that found the team's overall performance a bit disconcerting in their 33-14 whipping at the hands of the visiting Carolina Panthers yesterday in the final game of the 2018 NFL Regular Season, then you're not alone.
As a matter of fact, it was Saints head coach Sean Payton himself who was quick to point a finger at the entire squad for their perceived lack of effort, even though the contest was essentially billed as a "meaningless" game played by a handful of back-up players on both sides.
“It’s easy to evaluate. Just look at the film. You don't come in here and say, 'It's gonna be a great learning [experience]. There's nothing about it that's good. It's disappointing ... coaches and players, all of us." Payton told reporters yesterday in his post-game press conference.
"We can spin it any way we want to -- we didn't play well. That’s our job though. That’s the business we’re in."
"[The defense] wasn't good, it wasn't good. We didn't get any pressure on the quarterback, we didn't tackle well. Holding the receivers. Pick something. Run fits weren't good. ... Listen, you can't just turn it on and off and decide when you want to -- this game has never been like that. ... You take that personally as a coach, and it was disappointing. We played poorly."
"(But) we can put our own little stamp on this. Listen, it starts with me. We'll get the corrections made. But we didn't play well. Credit Carolina, they came ready to play."
Indeed, Carolina did in fact come ready to play; and for the most part it was the overall performance of the Saints defense in particular, that drew the most scrutiny from both the head coach and the fan-base as well.
While it can be said that the offense's struggles were directly correlated to a majority of the O-Line along with starting QB Drew Brees and RB Alvin Kamara being held out out of action; there was no such excuse for the defense — whose starters played for the entire 1st half but managed to quickly fall behind by a 23-0 deficit.
And that was to an undrafted rookie QB no less, in Panthers 3rd string QB Kyle Allen.
"We could have been (14-2). We're (13-3). I'm pissed. I'm overly irritated about not being able to capitalize on our situation at hand," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said to ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett.
"We only have 16 given opportunities, and when we play our best ball, we're unbeatable. ... I'm never going to be excited about not putting our best foot forward, especially heading into the playoffs. I feel like we've showed we're progressing every game. And this game, I don't think we showed that.
"You're trying to make a statement with your defense. ... We try to make a statement game and that's not the statement we definitely want to release."
Triplett notes that the Saints' defense struggled in every area; which is worrisome considering that Allen was making his first-ever NFL career start, as well as the fact that Panthers 2nd year superstar RB Christian McCaffrey left the game after only one series.
But once again as it was earlier in the season, it was clearly the pass defense that seemed to experience a great deal of trepidation in yesterday's match-up.
Saints cornerbacks Eli Apple and Ken Crawley were each penalized for pass interference penalties; while fellow CB and 2nd year CB Marshon Lattimore gave up a 38-yard throw and catch to Panthers rookie WR DJ Moore near the New Orleans sidelines.
Then in the 2nd half mostly against the Saints' back-ups, Allen was able to complete a 53-yard TD pass to 2nd year Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel.
Allen completed 16 of 27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to a rushing touchdown. Allen earned a quarterback rating of 111.3, which for an undrafted rookie making his first ever pro career start, is somewhat remarkable.
That certainly won't "cut the mustard" against potential Saints opponents in the Playoffs that include top-notch offensive passing attacks like the Rams, Dallas, and Philadelphia (and if the Saints are fortunate enough to get to the Super Bowl, a possible match-up against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs).
It's a possibility that isn't lost on Payton, who just a short while ago in his Monday Morning presser, told reporters that the team will spend the next week of preparations by focusing on themselves, and correcting or "tightening up" their basic skills and fundamentals.
Or for a lack of a better term: the "little things" that can get a team KNOCKED OUT of the NFL Playoffs.
"With the way we played yesterday and some of the offensive things we've done recently, our focus is going to be strictly on the Saints this week."
Spending the week getting things squared away before the arrival of the Divisional Playoffs in 13 more days from now, can only be of a great benefit to the Black and Gold.
The old adage that "defense wins championships" ― even in this day and age of pinball-machine like scores that add up on NFL stadium scoreboards ― still holds true.
And for the majority of the season, the Saints defense has played well enough to lead this team to another Super Bowl title; a goal which New Orleans is now only 3 more wins away from achieving.
But they won't get anywhere close to achieving that goal if they don't first spend some time getting the issues that still seem to be lingering around, corrected soon (and very soon at that).