The New Orleans Saints lost the opening game of their 2017 regular season last night, a 29-19 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
It was a very disappointing way to start the new season for New Orleans, which has finished with 3 straight (7-9) losing seasons dating back to 2014 and now has also dropped their 4th consecutive season-opening game in a row.
The Saints appeared to be "sleepwalking" through the game at certain points, and they seemed to be more ready to hop on a plane headed back to NOLA, than they were worried about winning a nationally televised football game in front of millions of people.
Now as most Saints fans know: we normally do a list where we pick 5 "winners and losers" after each week's game during the season; but given the manner in which the Saints were beaten last night, we can promise you: there weren't many "winners", with the exception of a couple of players that we'll touch on briefly.
On the other hand, there were PLENTY of "losers" -- and we'll definitely look at the biggest ones.
With that in mind, here's a look at the biggest "winners and losers", from last night's opening regular season game loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Starting with last night's only winners......
WIL LUTZ, KICKER AND THOMAS MORESTEAD, PUNTER
Let's face it: if you are a Saints fan, then there just wasn't a whole lot about last night's game that can allow you to walk away "feeling good" about it.
The Saints appeared to be outmatched and definitely outplayed, in one of the most uninspired season openers in the team's 51-year history. But at least 2 players decided to show up, as they usually seem to do on a reliable basis if no else does.
Lutz was perfect on all 4 of his field goal attempts, hitting kicks of 43, 21, 24, and 20 yards. Morestead had 3 punts for a whopping 53.3 average, including a 68-yarder.
There were other Saints players worthy of making the "winners" list -- Drew Brees was with 27-for-37 passing for 391 yards, but those numbers were padded by the late push to catch up.
TE Coby Fleener caught the only Saints TD pass, and WR Tommylee Lewis had a 52-yard reception, but neither play was enough to warrant being on this list.
The bottom line is that when your kicker and punter are actually your best 2 players from the game that you just lost, then there likely has to be a lot of questions that need to be answered as to why this Saints team didn't show up ready to play last night.
#5. THE ENTIRE SAINTS O-LINE
After a solid start to the game on the opening first 2 drives to the game which resulted in 2 of those 4 Wil Lutz field goals, the Saints O-Line's fortunes took a dramatic turn after 11-year veteran right tackle Zach Strief left the game with an apparent knee injury. Veteran back-up Senio Kelemete replaced Strief in the line-up, but the O-Line clearly missed Strief's presence and leadership.
Strief was later diagnosed with a sprained MCL, and potentially could now miss several games. And that was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
As a group, the O-Line failed to help the offense establish any semblance of a running game; as the Saints rushed 21 times for 60 yards --- a sad, pathetic and rather paltry 2.9-yard average. And regardless of who carried the ball, the end results were the same.
The Saints O-Line actually held up well in the passing game, allowing Brees to only get sacked just once and hit two other times, as well as a couple of quarterback hits nullified by penalty, via New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill.
But the Saints O-Line struggled with matching the Vikings D-Line's aggressiveness and tenacity, a reality of last night's game that was particularly evident on a 3rd quarter pass rush where Vikings DE Everson Griffen totally destroyed rookie offensive left tackle Ryan Ramczyk for a sack on Brees.
After what appeared to have been a very good start for them, the Saints O-Line took a notable step backwards last night.
4. ADRIAN PETERSON, RUNNING BACK
It was supposed to be a "homecoming" of sorts last night for Peterson, but it didn't turn out to be a welcome reception; or at least not on the level that he had hoped it would be.
Peterson finished with a grand total of 6 carries for 18 yards (with no catches in the passing game) and was heartily booed by the Vikings crowd for whom he had played in front of for the past decade as their all-time leading rusher.
Peterson was then used sparingly in the 2nd half, as the Saints were forced to became one-dimensional after falling behind by double-digits.
Unfortunately for both the Saints and Peterson, his one real "highlight" came during a first-half (early 2nd quarter) sideline exchange with head coach Sean Payton, as Peterson appeared to be yelling something to Payton from behind; which of course then led to a video of it that was circulated on the Internet for the remainder of the game.
Sean Payton, Adrian Peterson on the sideline pic.twitter.com/MMHfvJ3gcr
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) September 12, 2017
Both men downplayed the incident, but as if the Saints didn't have enough things go wrong last night, this sort of thing taking place certainly doesn't help any of the parties involved.
#3. DE'VANTE HARRIS, CORNERBACK
If any one Saints player gets "scapegoated" by Saints fans this morning for last night's loss, then unfortunately they probably won't have to go any further than CB De'Vante Harris; who had Saints fans yelling at their TV's near the end of the 1st half and then again during the 2nd half.
Harris, the 2nd year UDFA out of Texas A&M University, seemingly got victimized time and time again by Vikings QB Sam Bradford; in their attempt to make Bradford look more like the 2nd coming of Pro Football Hall of Fame legend Joe Montana (more on that, coming up in a minute).
The Vikings picked on Harris repeatedly as he was playing the nickel back spot in single coverage, and he simply was NOT up to the task. He gave up not one but 2 TD receptions to Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, and was caught out of place or position on several long Vikings pass plays to Vikings WR Adam Thielen, who had a spectacular night with nine catches for 157 yards.
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2017
With the Saints still expected to be short-handed in the secondary for another 7 games while starting #1 CB Delvin Breaux continues to heal from surgery on his fractured fibula, it was already well-known that the Saints would need to rely on the help of other players at the CB position, with the hope being that they would "step up" and contribute.
Here's an observation: De'Vante Harris AIN'T one of them.
#2. THE ENTIRE SAINTS DEFENSIVE LINE
Perhaps if there was any one single thing that stood out from last night's contest, it would be how BADLY the Saints defense not only played the game as a whole unit, but for the one thing that continually seems to plague and curse this football team at the moment besides an obvious lack of consistency: a completely non-existent pass rush.
The Saints made Vikings QB Sam Bradford the latest decent to average (and sometimes just-below average) NFL quarterback to look like the next coming of a Hall of Fame legend like Joe Montana or Roger Staubach; and that simply happened because the Saints D-Line failed and FAILED MIGHTILY to get any decent "heat" on Bradford, if at all.
Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards with 3 TD's, and a (143.0) QB rating, which is near perfect and on par with anything that Montana and Staubach ever did -- and certainly what Saints fans are used to seeing Drew Brees do quite often. That made it evident that Bradford had plenty of time to throw the football, and throw it he did.
As it was, the Saints were facing a Vikings O-Line with all 5 linemen who were named brand new starters just recently, but they looked as if they had been playing together for over a decade last night. Bradford was only sacked once in the game by perennial Saints All-Pro DE Cam Jordan -- who as of right now seems to be the only Saints D-Lineman that scares anyone.
In short, the Saints D-Line --- just as the O-Line looked against the Vikings defense --- just seemed to be outmatched PHYSICALLY, and when you are getting beat physically at the point of attack on just about every play, there usually isn't much hope for winning that particular game or being successful in that specific situation.
Which brings us to last night's biggest loser....
#1. SEAN PAYTON, HEAD COACH
All off-season long, the company line that's been repeatedly given to the media from Saints team brass (and particularly by head coach Sean Payton) is that neither he or the organization feel any added or extra "pressure" to win games this year, or that 2017 should be considered a "make or break" season for the franchise and its future as some have labeled it.
But let's be quite honest: in the NFL, it's all about WINNING FOOTBALL GAMES.
And how long of a rope do you really believe that Sean Payton has right now, with regard to his time as the team's head coach; and his being in charge of the Saints on-field football operations along with having the final say on all of the team's roster decisions, after performances like the ones we witnessed last night?
Saints owner Tom Benson --- as it's well-known --- LOVES Payton; but just how far and how long will that affection last, if we continue to see games like the one that took place last night in front of the entire world on the national stage?
The Saints have had MONTHS to be ready for last night's game, but looked to be totally unprepared. Additionally as we noted earlier, the Saints appeared to be outmatched and definitely outplayed, in what had to be one of the most uninspiring-played season openers in the team's entire 51-year history.
And even more disturbing was the way in which the team was beaten "down in the trenches" physically, and was never able to truly recover.
All of those things fall directly back upon the head coach, a coach who supposedly wants to be in New Orleans through 2020, but probably wished he was somewhere other than where he was last night.
And with an angry New England Patriots team visiting the Superdome next Sunday and a tough schedule during this first half of the season, things probably can only get worse before they eventually will get better.
Sean Payton might not be on the "hot seat" just yet since we're only 1 week into the season --- but that sucker sure is gonna get warm......