By Bradley Handwerger
There was a moment in New Orleans’ 30-14 loss to Atlanta on Sunday when it appeared all wasn’t going to be lost for the Saints this season.
That through all the trials and tribulations, through all the lows and deep, deep lows, that the 2014 could still turn into something that might resemble success.
It was fleeting.
New Orleans’ latest effort – and season as a whole - can be summed up in a three-decision sequence late in the first quarter.
Coach Sean Payton sent out the punt team. Then he called timeout, deciding instead to go for it on fourth-and-two.
Left tackle Bryce Harris jumped the gun on the snap, however, putting New Orleans in fourth-and-seven.
Instead of punting, Payton decided to stick with the plan.
Quarterback Drew Brees, as he has done for much of the season, tried to fit a pass into a spot that’s not open for him anymore.
And instead of possibly being up 10-3, the lead remained a field goal less.
New Orleans had its chances, but like in many of the other losses, it blew it.
That sound you heard leaving the Superdome wasn’t the whisper of wind blowing past as fans streamed out.
It was one more window closing on the golden era of Saints football.
When asked it this season has been a head scratcher, Payton said no.
“I don’t really look at it like it’s puzzling,” Payton said. “The things you need to do to play consistently and win in this league, we haven’t done those consistently.”
The Saints appeared as soft as they have in any Payton-coached season since 2007.
The mistakes that were made again and again come from having a lack of focus, from not being mentally tough. They happen when a team reads its preseason news clippings and believes in the reports of being Super Bowl favorites.
New Orleans’ failure in 2014 has little to do with where they practiced during the preseason than it has to do with in-game decisions and roster moves.
Maybe we’re seeing the fissures in the Saints’ system growing larger. Or maybe we’re seeing a one off bad season that will result in a 2015 rebound.
How the Saints finish up next week against Tampa Bay will give us a little insight into whether Payton has lost the team and who remains checked in.
For the Saints to keep one more window open, they’ll have to show some poise beginning now.
It’s 2015 even if the calendar says it’s not.