Hold your breath, not your nose

Published 10:45 am Wednesday, December 22, 2021

After 15 years you’d think you know a team enough to get comfortable with it.

But along comes 2021, sort of picking up where 2020 left off in careening off the rails of true normal.

And, true to form, this is quite the parallel universe the New Orleans Saints are living in right now.

Up is down, black is white, the sun sets in the east, and Drew Brees definitely don’t live there anymore.

The fleur de lis might as well be the symbol for pi.

It has taken some getting used for a Who Dat nation more accustomed to Brees and the routine fireworks turning scoreboards into slot machines.

It is not always pretty. Far from it, particularly in this day and age of short attention spans.

But let’s say this: There has never been an ugly football team that is more fun to watch.

In fact it can be flat-out excruciating to watch an offense that is in some kind of eternal Lucy-pulling-the-ball-away-from-Charlie Brown attempt to draw blood from a turnip.

But it is a blast.

It is suspense from start to finish. You find yourself holding your breath for entire quarters.

Can this defense just hold up one more quarter before the zebras step in and decide the game?

In a nutshell, Sunday night might have been the most amazing, inexplicable victory in the Sean Payton era — and Sean Payton wasn’t even there for the 9-0 barn burner over Tampa Bay.

Maybe it was just as well he got tripped up by a positive test for the COVID-19 and had to watch on TV (no doubt joining fans in holding his breath for three hours).

Some suspect he’d finally thrown up his arms.

This stubborn offense, depleted by the loss of most of its major weaponry, has confounded even the offensive genius of Payton. And, gosh knows, he’s tried everything.

Perhaps best to leave things in the hands of defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, even if meant probably exposing once and for all that Allen is prime head coaching material and probably will be gone somewhere else next season.

The Saints game plan, evidently, was to shut out the NFL’s highest-scoring team, which was led by the greatest quarterback of all time, and win without scoring a touchdown but with a placekicking game that’s been as likely to hit the first-down markers as split the uprights.

Pretty? No way.

But it’s a ton of fun to watch, even without offense, can’t take your eyes off it, like passing around a car wreck.

Give them credit, though. For all the frustrations of the season — not to mention the ready-made excuses — what they lack in football artistry, they more than make up for in want-to and enthusiasm.

Maybe that’s the key.

It’s almost like a college team, except with no optouts, but plenty of DNPs the old-fashioned way, twisting knees and pulling hammies and testing sideways on COVID.

Really, they don’t play like pro football players, not the cool, nonchalant ones anyway.

They seem to forget that, win or lose, they’re all millionaires anyway, and just play like naive kids with their hair on. Every week they’re flying around almost like the Gasparilla Bowl was on the line.

What a concept.

So now this terribly flawed team finds itself in danger of making the playoffs.

The Saints schedule is favorable, which in this nutty season with this upside-down team could mean big trouble.

In the final three games they’ve got the Dolphins (7-7), who’ve won six in a row but aren’t that good, and the Falcons (6-8) and Panthers (5-9), both of which are really, really bad and have no business beating even a depleted Saints team.

But this is no normal season, no rational Saints team.

This is a team with two wins against the defending Super Bowl champions, convincing wins against division-leaders Green Bay and New England.

That’s four of their seven wins against division leaders.

But it’s also a team that’s already lost to the Falcons and Panthers, not to mention the Giants and Eagles.

If they’d just win the games they’re supposed to be winning and lose the ones as big underdogs, the path would be a lot more clear.

It won’t be that simple.

But it ought to be fun.

Hold your breath.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com