At 5-8 the New Orleans Saints are mathematically still in contention for a playoff berth, but in reality even the longest of odds to make it into postseason play were shuffled out by the 52-27 loss to the New York Giants.
We can beat the dead horse over and over again about how much this football team needs the leadership, heavy hand and gameplan craftsmanship of Sean Payton, but in reality this football club has had rare moments of being able to piece together all three phases of the game.
The Saints ran the football very well against the Giants, posting 142 yards of rushing. Until the fourth quarter they also did a good job of shutting down the Giants rushing attack, but their inability to slow down the Giants on third down conversion plays via the air along with numerous turnovers did this football team in.
The Saints fumbled the ball twice and Drew Brees threw two more interceptions in the contest. When you are playing a team as talented as the New York Giants, you canít shorten the field for them and give them easy scores.
But the most shocking part of this game was the kickoff coverage units. All season long the Saints had done a good job covering kicks and normally Thomas Morstead was kicking the ball out of the end zone. However, in the rainy and cold air of New Jersey the Saints were torched by 287 yards of kickoff runback yardage.
Giants rookie first round pick David Wilson returned four kickoffs for 227 yards and had a touchdown run of 97 yards. The speedster was a one-man wrecking crew in his ability to efficiently follow his blocks. His sprinterís speed did the rest.
Wilson also rushed for 100 yards on 13 carries. He made Giantsí fans forget the fact the team would have selected Tampa Bay Buccaneers halfback Doug Martin, who has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season, had he been on the board.
Wilson has struggled with ball security early on, but with Ahmad Bradshaw down with an injury, he stepped up to the plate Sunday and hit a grand slam homer.
It is time to see what can be done to correct the ills on this football team and most of it starts on the defensive side of the ball.
The Saints lack what the Giants have plenty of, pass rushers. The Saints need a signature pass rusher at defensive end, a more explosive and athletic outside linebacker who can also pressure the quarterback and help at cornerback.
I like what I have seen from the development of young players like defensive end Cam Jordan, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and rookie cornerback Corey White, but right now the Saints just donít have enough good players defensively to win big or advance come playoff time - with or without Sean Payton.
Major decisions have to be made with defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, defensive end Will Smith, outside linebacker Scott Shanle and linebacker Jonathan Vilma. To be honest, Roman Harper has also not played up to his high salary.
However, I believe Harper is the only player out of that group that has a realistic shot of returning next season.
Offensively the Saints are still a relatively young team, and with good health along the offensive line, they can still be one of the most explosive teams in the league. Eventually though their lack of a top pass rusher or two will show up if it is not addressed this offseason.
The first order of business is to get Sean Paytonís name on a contract and every passing day would seem to enhance his worth to the organization.
I have strongly felt he has always had his fingerprints on every small or major personnel move. In fact, he is the best head coaching talent evaluator this team has ever had.
He will have his fair share of work this offseason to retool this defense, but for now, the Saints had better be ready to break out a check book and add a few more zeros to his contract.
The season is over and it is time to concentrate on veteran free agency, trades and the draft.
But just make sure Payton is there to help make those choices.
To see how much he is worth just consider the fact that the Saints were one of the best closing teams in the fourth quarter over the last three seasons.
Last year the team outscored their opponents 153-89 in the fourth quarter. This season they have been outscored 95-62.