Last night, America got its first taste of the Reggie Bush they knew so well in college. For the first time in his three year NFL tenure, Bush left fans across the country saying, "Now that's a #1 pick right there". If you thought his 71 yard punt return for a TD was just a fluke, odds are Reggie's next two returns changed your mind. Before his second return, Bush raised his arms in an effort to get the crowd going, almost as if he knew he was going to break one again. When he caught the ball, it didn't look like he would, but after a few jukes and some broken tackles, Bush found himself about to round a corner at full speed, with only the punter to beat down field. Unfortunately for Reggie, he ran into the only thing that could stop him, a slick spot on the turf that tumbled him to the ground at the 50. The Saints took 3 to tie it up, came up with another defensive stop, and out again came Reggie. Apparently Childress (the Vikings head coach) didn't think it was possible to break three punt returns in a row. Well...he was wrong. Reggie weaved through the Vikings special teams again, turned on the after burners, and left Minnesota, once again, in his dust. As electric as the crowd was, and as amped as the Saints were, it wouldn't be enough for New Orleans.
Reggie's night was overshadowed by misfortune and poor play from his supporting cast. Poor play that continues to hinder the Saints potential to be the NFC Championship finalist it was just a few years ago. The talent is there. New Orleans has an offensive genius for a coach, a top 3 quarterback in the game (maybe #1 right now), a playmaker in Reggie Bush that can change the game with one touch, and a deep receiving core. Last night, their defense even showed flashes of brilliance as well. Yet somehow, someway, the Saints can't seem to get the "W" at the end of the day. Even when they dominate games, they still manage to lose.
Last night was bizarre. Brees described it as the weirdest game he's ever played in. The Saints had 375 yards of total offense and two punts returned for a score. The Vikings had just 270 yards of total offense. Throw in the 354 return yards for New Orleans compared to the 117 for the Vikings, and any person that had only seen the stats would assume the Saints won in a blow out. Yet the final score in the SuperDome last night was 30-27 Vikings.
The Saints had 11 penalties for 102 yards. They also turned the ball over 4 times and failed to recover an onside kick. Gramatica missed two field goals, one of which was blocked and returned for a TD. That's pretty pathetic for a professional football team. You can't expect to win with this many miscues. To give the Saints some benefit of the doubt, the officiating didn't help their cause. Ed Hoculi again finds himself on the hotseat, because of some of the calls he and his officiating staff missed last night. One of the Saints' turnovers came on a Reggie Bush fumble that never would have occurred had the officials not missed a blatant facemask take Bush to the ground, which left the ball vulnerable to be punched out. Hoculi and his crew also missed a helmet-to-helmet hit that should have resulted in a 15 yard penalty at the end of a pass play from Brees to Miller. Odds are a 31 yard field goal would have been easier for Gramatica to knock through the posts than the 46 yarder he missed without the penalty tacked on. Good thing the game wasn't decided by 3 points, or else that call would have had strong and controversial implications on the result of the game.
Regardless of the mishaps of the officials, the Saints can't look for excuses. Yes, Sean Payton had reason to be irrate with Hoculi and his staff, but he had just as much reason to be irrate with his players. They let a game get away from them that they dominated. They controlled the first half, yet were still losing. Then Reggie came to the rescue in electric fashion, giving the Saints a chance to put all their miscues aside and all the bad calls behind them; but they still lost. A bonehead pass interference penalty put the icing on the cake, setting the stage for an easy game-winning field goal for Minnesota.
Ron Jaworski set aside some time during the game to forget reminding the fans to protect the quarterback (at Joe Theisman's request I'm sure), and made a very true comment about the NFL. He said that in this game, its easier for teams to "lose" games, than to "win" them. This proved to be true last night for the Saints. At 2-3, New Orleans remains in last place in the NFC South, kicking themselves for the fact that they could just as easily be 5-0 right now. The Saints, to me, are still a top team in the NFC. In the next few weeks, most of their stars are scheduled to return from injury. If they can clean up the mental mistakes they've made thus far in the season, New Orleans should emerge as the NFC powerhouse they were just a few years ago. The talent is there, but the smarts have yet to be seen. Look for New Orleans to clean up their act and make a run at the postseason.
Image taken from Yahoo! Sports